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99 Moving On Up

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About Nightlit

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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

    Upward Delving

    Luke thinks about Asa as he walks up to the lodge. He can’t help it. Despite everything, he still feels like he needs to protect him. He realizes that’s irrational. Even when they were a team, he only protected Asa because he was a tank and Asa was pure DPS. The reverse could have been true. It makes him wonder if they might have chosen those roles in game because they mirrored their roles outside the game. He can’t be certain, and that bothers him because it makes him realize Asa is right. He needs to move on. But he can’t. “Luke right?” Collin’s voice snaps him out of his reverie. “Yeah.” Luke is glad for the distraction. “I wanted to talk to you about guilds.” Collin says. Luke nods, “What about them?” Collin motions towards the front desk, “I’d rather finish in private, if that’s okay.” Luke raises an eyebrow, “Okay.” When they enter Collin’s room, Luke can’t help but notice he has heavily altered it. Luke thinks the red and gold theme is gaudy, especially with Collin’s hair color, but aside of that, the room looks quite comfortable, like a college apartment. Complete with a couch and an easy chair. When Luke stops looking around, Collin grins at him, “What do you think?” Luke shrugs, “Not really my colors.” Collin nods, “Yeah. I’ll probably change them later. I wanted something that looked nothing like the default room coloration. Something to remind me that this is my room.” “Ah.” Luke deadpans. Collin takes that as a cue to bring up the real subject, “About guilds.” “What about them?” Luke asks. “I don’t think you should join one. Unless it’s Asa’s of course.” Collin says. Luke raises an eyebrow at that, “That’s not what you thought at the meeting.” “I meant you in specific.” Collin walks over to the couch and sits down, “You and Asa have been partners as long as anyone can remember. No one would bat an eye if you joined Asa’s guild. But you have a reputation you may not know about.” Luke ponders for a moment, “I know I’m known as one of the best spiral masters.” Collin shakes his head, “That’s not what I’m talking about. You are really skilled, and that’s good, we need that, but you also have a tendency to step in when someone less skilled than you is doing something.” Luke can’t help but think of Asa and his conversation, “Am I really that bad?” Collin taps the seat next to him and Luke walks over and sits down, “I wouldn’t call it bad. I think it’s one of your better qualities in general, but here it poses a problem. If you were to enter a guild, you might end up becoming the backbone of said guild. They might even recruit you to rely on your skills. We can’t afford that. People need to improve their skills, and that’s not something they can do with a top player doing everything for them.” Collin sighs, “There’s another reason though. Most of the top players have partied up with a lot of people. Even Asa spent a good amount of time with other parties, particularly when you weren’t online. But you only ever partied with Asa. When Asa wasn’t around, you were pretty much always solo.” Luke raises an eyebrow in response, but let’s Collin continue. “Maybe I’m being paranoid, but there’s a chance if you join any guild that isn’t Asa’s that you might become an object of contention with other guilds.” Luke looks down, “I hate that you’re right.” Collin nods, “I hate it too. I’m not singling you out. There are some other players I have similar feelings about. But you are the biggest name one, so I felt I had to say something.” “Is that why you made your own guild?” Luke asks. “Partially.” Collin answers, “But another big part of it is that I firmly believe that people work better with people they know and trust. That’s why I want people to make guilds rather than just party.” Luke nods, “I understand.” Collin nods, “I thought you would.” Luke thinks for a moment, “So, what do you think I should do?” Collin sighs, “I’m not sure. Frankly, Asa’s guild doesn’t need you right now. So it might be better for you to sort out whatever’s preventing you from joining it.” Luke sighs, “Am I that obvious?” Collin nods, “You’re a famous player who played with a single person for years. People notice that.” “I guess.” Luke thinks for a moment, “Collin, I want to tackle the crystal cave.” Collin raises an eyebrow, “That shouldn’t be hard for you.” Luke stands up, “I still don’t want to go alone.” Collin thinks for a moment, “Losing you would be a big blow.” Luke nods, “I want you to come with me.” Collin nods, “Where do you want us to meet you?” Luke shakes his head, “Not you and your guild, just you.” Collin thins his eyes, “Why?” Luke meets his gaze, “I want to see how you fight.” “A test?” Collin asks. Luke shakes his head, “Not one you can fail. I want to know how I fight with you.” Collin nods, “And you don’t want me fighting with my team.” Luke nods, “That’s right. So?” Collin smiles, “I think that’s a great idea, except we need a third member. Unless you added off healing to your build.” “There’s always potions.” Luke suggests. Collin thins his eyes, “Luke, you are great at the game, but you’re still playing like you can respawn if you die.” Luke sighs, “I guess I am.” Collin grins, “So I’m gonna get Kwame.” Luke raises an eyebrow, “Kwame?” “He’s Tyrone’s brother. I think you met him already. He has a stealth healer build,” Collin responds. Luke nods, “I know. I’m just wondering why Kwame? Isn’t Gabriel the better healer?” Collin nods, “We don’t need a great healer. What we need is a healer who won’t interfere with our teamwork when they aren’t healing.” Luke’s eyes widen in realization, “Oh. So you don’t intend for this to be a three man run. You just want someone around who can bail us out.” Collin nods, “We can’t afford to lose either of us, but we can’t just stand around being afraid to take risks either. We have to be smart about things.” Luke starts heading towards the door, “Right. I’m gonna pull from the gatcha and buy some supplies. Meet you at the cave entrance safe zone in an hour?” Collin nods, “I’ll get Kwame and meet you there.” Luke thinks about Kwame as he leaves. He liked the kid, and contrary to how Tyrone described him, every time he’s seen Kwame he’s been quite level headed. Like Collin was saying, they’ve gotta take smart risks. That seems to be what Kwame does. When Luke reaches the gatcha he isn’t really paying much attention. He’s doing it once a day on principle, not really expecting to get anything good. That’s when he sees the unfamiliar golden glow of a rare item. When that rare item is a Swordbreaker, his eyes widen in surprise. It’s special ability to reflect parried damage is crazy good for him. He knows how he’s going to spend the next hour now. Some Time Later Luke isn’t sure how long he’s been at the safe zone when Kwame and Collin arrive, but he’d finished replacing his knife with the Swordbreaker in all his menus and started theorycrafting around how having it might change his overall build. He waves them over when he sees them appear from the teleporter. Kwame surprises him by looking up at him sheepishly, “Hey! Wow. Never thought Tall&Zxy and GoldenrodBoy would hit me for a healer.” Luke looks at Kwame sternly, “Please call me Luke.” “Okay dude.” Kwame raises an eyebrow at him, “What’s eatin’ ya?” Luke sighs, “Nothing.” Kwame shrugs, “Oh well. Nonamy business anyway.” Luke raises his eyebrows at him, “You seem different.” Kwame looks down, “I dunno. I’m kinda in awe. You are like, the best of the best, and you picked me.” Collin puts a hand on his shoulder, “You’re who we needed. Nothing more, nothing less.” Kwame laughs, “Really dude? Way to ruin the mood.” Luke shakes his head, but he can’t help but be amused at the younger man, “You’re insurance.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “So you want me to stealth around and heal you if things go to shit?” Collin nods, “Basically.” “So, if things go well, I’ll just be watchin’ you guys fight all afternoon?” Kwame asks. Luke nods, “Yeah.” Kwame grins, “Sounds pretty awesome. I’m totally in.” Collin laughs, “Where’s all the modesty gone?” Kwame laughs sheepishly, “It’s still there. It’s kinda always there. I’m just good at hiding it.” Luke raises an eyebrow at him, “Hey, you planning to join a guild?” Kwame thinks for a moment, “Prolly, why?” “I can’t join a guild but I don’t wanna go it alone. I could use a partner.” Luke says. “What about Collin?” Kwame asks. Luke shakes his head, “Collin’s got a guild.” Kwame looks down, “But dude. There’s gotta be someone better’n me.” Collin raises an eyebrow, “Maybe that’s better. You’re an awesome asset Kwame. You’re good at what you do, and what you do is unique. You pair well with Luke and the two of you slot into essentially any team. And with Luke’s help, you’ll go from good at what you do to becoming a top player.” Kwame grins, “Ya think I’ve got that much potential?” Luke stands up, “No better time to find out.” Collin grins, “Agreed.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Didn’t you want me to stick back? Some kinda insurance?” Collin nods, “We’ll need you. For the boss if nothing else.” Kwame nods, “Gotcha.” Luke tosses each of them some consumables, “I’ll take point.” Collin nods, “Your build is better for that than mine.” Kwame steps up, “I’ll be all stealthy like.” Collin grins, “Ready to go?” Luke nods, “I’m ready.” Kwame smirks, “This is gonna be awesome.” Luke half smiles. Kwame reminds him of better times before puberty caused Asa to pull into a shell, “I’ll take that as a yes.” The short walk from the grove of trees to the cave is uneventful, and when they reach the entrance, Collin takes them to a safe zone in a small crystalline inset. “Are there any final preparations any of us need to do before we enter? Any buffs you want to set?” Luke shakes his head in response. “Nope,” Kwame says. Collin nods, “And do we want this to be a private instance?” Kwame shrugs, “No clue. This is your gig.” Luke thinks for a moment, “I think so.” Collin nods again, “The three of us should be able to handle it.” “I got you covered.” Kwame says. Collin looks at him, “Covered?” Kwame grins, “Bought a teleport rune. Figured you might need it.” Luke nods, “We might.” Collin shakes his head, “So, are we really ready this time?” Luke and Kwame nod in response. Luke enters the dungeon and when the menu pops up he notes that the options are public, solo, party and guild. The solo option is new. He checks to make sure that Kwame and Collin haven’t been dropped from his party somehow and then selects party. When he steps into the instance, the light purple to violet hues of the cave look beautiful and Luke thinks about what Asa said. He takes a moment to take in the beauty of the area. Whoever rendered this did an excellent job. The different hues of purple combine to form a kind of mystique he appreciates. “It’s beautiful.” Kwame nods, “It’s pretty fucking awesome looking, yeah.” Collin also nods, “There’s so much detail. And the way the light reflects off the crystal is so real. The shadowing, man. Someone put a lot of effort into this.” Luke steps forward, “Shall we?” Collin draws his weapons while Kwame slips into the shadows. The cave is linear, the only randomly generated parts being a few off shoots, so they move forward slowly but casually. The few mobs they run into on the path are simple Goblins that they defeat with little fuss. As they approach the first room, however, Luke moves to the wall. “Kwame. What’s up ahead?” Kwame returns in a moment, “Four elite goblins. No biggie, but not the small fry you’ve blasted so far.” Collin nods, “Shouldn’t be an issue should it?” Luke shakes his head, “No.” He turns to Kwame, “Thank you.” Kwame laughs, “Ah shucks! You don’t have to thank me!” Collin’s smile is knowing, “Would you, by any chance, be blushing right now if you could?” Kwame grins, “Here with two of the best players? And two of the hottest guys? Of course I’d be fucking blushing.” Luke turns to him, “You’re gay?” Kwame shrugs, “Yeah. Gonna make something of it?” Collin shrugs, “I’m bi. And Asa told me you’ve known he’s gay for ages.” Luke nods, “Yeah. I’ve never known what to think of that to be honest.” Kwame thins his eyes at him, “Meaning?” Luke sighs, “I never had a problem with it, but I don’t really understand it either.” Kwame’s expression instantly softens and he shrugs, “What’s to understand? Dick makes me hard. Breasts don’t.” Collin nods, “It really can be that simple Luke. Sexuality doesn’t have to be about anything else.” Luke nods, “I know, it’s just. I dunno.” Kwame slaps Luke’s shoulder, “Let’s go slaughter us some gobbies. We can tease our token straight later.” Luke sighs, but smiles sheepishly, “Thanks.” Collin draws his spear, “Let’s go.” They approach the room slowly, not wanting to accidentally step across the threshold. At the entrance, Luke checks out the room. “They’re haphazardly placed.” Collin nods, “If you were to charge the closest one, I’d likely take it out before it got a chance to attack you. Three on two would be much better odds, especially if we stand back to back.” Luke nods, “That sounds good. We should be able to take out a second one if we’re quick.” “Then it’d be one on one.” Collin says, “But that’s still better odds for you than for me.” Luke turns to him, “As long as you can keep one busy, I can take them both.” Collin nods, “That’s easy enough.” “So I just stay here?” Kwame asks. “Whatever you think is best.” Collin responds. Kwame looks down, “Whatever I think is best?” Luke nods, “Yeah. Whatever gives you the best chance of jumping in.” Kwame sighs, “Okay. Whatever you say.” “There is such a thing as too much humility.” Collin puts a supportive hand on Kwame’s shoulder, “Have some confidence, even if you have to pretend.” Kwame puts a grin on his face, “Got it.” Luke smiles, “That’s better.” The nearest goblin turns around to start pacing away from them, and Luke springs into action. He charges in and uses slash fury, equipping a sword and dealing almost three quarters of the goblin’s HP. The other three goblins have started moving in their direction, but a bolt blasts the goblin in front of Luke, defeating it. Luke charges the next closest goblin, but without the blindside, swipe twice only does around a quarter of its HP. Luke is surprised when Bolt does more damage than his sword enhanced swipe twice, but he still parries the incoming attack. He slashes down and does another ten percent or so before backing off to sidestep away from the incoming goblins. A chain lightning spell suddenly hits the goblin he’s facing and then jumps to the two other ones, dealing another rather large chunk of damage to the goblin in front of him. He uses another couple knife speed sword attacks to get the goblin in the red before another goblin tries to attack his flank. Another Bolt finishes off the goblin in critical, but the last goblin immediately takes it’s place. Luke uses his flash step to put himself in line with the two goblins so they can only approach him from one direction. That’s when Collin steps up next to him and lunges his spear into one of them. Luke equips the sword to have a similar reach to Collin and engages the other goblin. It takes a few more parries and strikes but the goblin goes down. “Collin, your taking too much damage!” Luke says. Collin responds by stepping behind him. Luke parries the goblin’s attack with his swordbreaker, dealing some damage back, before a glyph appears beneath him, causing his HP to regenerate. Collin steps up alongside him again and the two of them finish off their last foe. Luke turns to Collin as he lets the glyph run its course. “You’re doing a lot of damage.” Collin grins back, “I know! It’s working so much better than I thought it would.” Luke raises an eyebrow, “It?” Collin grins, “My build! So, I rolled a 50% bonus to lighting damage and attacks. And I was thinking, ‘there has to be a way I can break this!’ So I started theorycrafting about lightning and testing what it actually does. And I found that the bonus is to the lightning keyword, not just the elemental. So it affects all lightning elemental damage, or any lightning attacks or spells. And that’s the kicker, if you use shadow spells to make lightning spells do type-less damage, the ability still affects them!” Luke’s eye widen, “Wait really? But 50% is more than most weakness boosts!” Collin nods, “Yep. And this stacks on top of them!” “Wait, what do you mean?” Kwame asks. “It means it stacks on top of weakness boosts. And not additively.” Collin says. Luke shakes his head and whistles, an amused smile on his face, “Man. That’s crazy.” Collin nods and continues gushing, “My current build is really just using the skill to stack on top of lightning spells. I don’t have shadowshift yet, since elemental resistances don’t really crop up until later, and I’m currently working on a more important part of my build.” Luke raises an eyebrow, “What could be more important than shadowshift?” Collin lifts his spear, “Getting javelin skill, so I can get Lightning Rod skill ranks.” Luke’s eye’s widen again, “Lightning Rod? The lodge skill?” Collin nods, “The very same.” “Lodge skill?” Kwame asks. Luke turns to him, “Collin’s using one.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Don’t lodge skills suck?” Collin shakes his head, “A lot of player’s think they do, because you can’t equip a new weapon, but when you think about it, lodging a weakness into a target is doing the same thing as boosting your damage, and most lodge skills have the added bonus of ignoring other resistances, like physical or magical resistance. Sure, damage boosters are better on groups, but they also cap a lot lower than lodge skills, so on a single enemy, lodge skills can be extremely powerful.” “You gonna get a lightning booster weapon?” Luke asks. Collin shrugs, “If I find one, but lightning is better a focused fire anyway, so I’ll probably get more out of sniping enemies one at a time than trying to abuse chain lightning. Don’t get me wrong, chain lightning abuse can be really good, but there are few places where you wouldn’t be better off just casting inferno or blizzard, especially since getting chain lightning to be that effective takes a much larger portion of your build. I’ll get the spells for some low key crowd control, but I’d rather put more into the amazing support options lightning has and leave crowd control to other players with more suitable builds.” Kwame lets out an impressed whistle, “Wow. Just wow.” Collin raises an eyebrow, “What?” Kwame grins, “Just, the brilliance man! So much thought!” Now it’s Collin who looks sheepish, “Thank you.” Luke sees Collin in a new light. Luke had heard of GoldenrodBoy of course, and vaguely knew that he was considered a top player, but he’d always thought skill was a larger factor than build, so he hadn’t ever paid much attention to him before. He’s beginning to think that was shortsighted. Collin has made a build that seems incredibly effective, but has little to no skill required. Throw a javelin and lodge lightning rod, then cast lightning spells. And even better, the use of lightning rod would boost lightning elemental attacks from other players. A benefit that most top players realize about lightning rod and similar skills that many others overlook. While in theory, anyone could execute the build, in a way, that’s part of the beauty of it. Luke decides to talk to Collin about his build at some point, but that’ll have to wait until after they’ve completed the dungeon, “Shall we go?” “Ready cap’n!” Kwame says. “Partner.” Luke says. Collin nods, “Don’t forget mentor.” Kwame sighs sheepishly, “Aw shucks.” Luke thinks for a moment, “I’m not your captain or your protector.” He takes a deep breath, “Sorry, I’m not very good at this.” He takes a moment to get his bearings, “Thinking like that’s where I went wrong with Asa. I need a partner who can protect me. For the times when I can’t do it myself.” Kwame steps up to him, “Whoa. I… dunno what to say.” Collin grins, “Then don’t say anything. Just do what he asks.” Kwame smiles, “Alright cap’n.” Luke sighs, “I’m never losing that nickname am I?” Kwame grins, “Nope.” Luke lets out a huge guffaw in response, “Sure skipper.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Skipper?” Luke grins, “If I’m the cap’n, you’re the skipper.” Kwame grins back, “Now you’re getting it!” Collin laughs, “We really should go.” They both nod in response. They continue at a casual pace until they reach an offshoot. At the end of the offshoot, they find a chest. The three of them stare at it. “I wonder if its trapped?” Luke asks. “I wonder if traps are even implemented?” Collin asks. Kwame shrugs, “Dude, you think they’d create a death game and not implement traps?” Collin thinks for a moment, “That is unlikely.” Luke turns to them, “It comes down to this. We open the chest, or we don’t.” Kwame shakes his head, “We open it. Chests have awesome loot!” Collin nods, “And we can’t expect to get very far if we don’t get it.” “How durable are you?” Luke asks Kwame. “You want me to open it?” Kwame asks. Collin thinks, “There is some logic to that. He isn’t doing the fighting, and he can get out of here the safest. There shouldn’t be really dangerous traps yet, at least there weren’t before.” Kwame nods, “Sometimes you just gotta leap.” He walks over to the chest and taps it. “That’s a bad sign.” “Bad sign?” Luke asks. “It’s asking if I wanna open it,” Kwame answers. Collin nods, “Having second thoughts?” Kwame sighs, “Well past second dude.” Luke walks over and taps the chest himself and then selects open. The chest opens and Luke gets a Long Sword. “Long sword.” Luke says. Collin raises an eyebrow, “Does it at least have an ability?” Luke taps the description, “Fire boost.” Kwame looks down, “I’m sorry.” Luke shakes his head, “Don’t worry about it.” Kwame sighs, “But-” Luke turns to him, “You’d heal me if it blew up right?” Kwame nods, “Duh, but...” Luke grins, “Then what’s wrong?” Kwame sighs, “Does anything scare you?” Luke shakes his head, “I’ve always been afraid, ever since I was a little kid. I usually did the thing I was afraid of anyway.” Kwame shakes his head, “And succeeded right?” Luke laughs, “Loads of bumps, bruises and failures too.” Kwame looks at him, “You’re fronting, aren’t you? All that stiff faced bravado is fake?” Luke grins, “So now there’s two.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Two?” Collin grins, “Two people who can see through his bull shit.” He turns to Luke, “For the record, I’ve been able to see through your bull shit for a while too, I just saw not point in calling you on it.” “Okay, three then.” Luke nods. Kwame raises an eyebrow, “I dunno. It might have been bull shit at some point, but now I think it’s just genuine courage.” Collin nods, “I have to agree.” Luke shakes his head, “No. It’s not. I’m not afraid of dying in game. I never have been. Sure, I know that if I die I probably don’t come back, but I still don’t fear it and I’m not sure I ever will.” Luke turns to them, “What I really fear is being alone.” Kwame raises an incredulous eyebrow, “For a guy afraid of being alone, you sure keep pushing people away.” Collin stands up, “He doesn’t want people. He wants what he had with Asa.” Luke shakes his head, “No. I mean, I do want to have something with Asa, but it’s not what I had. With Asa, I was a protector and he was my ward. Even when he didn’t need my protection, or I really needed his.” Luke grips his knife tightly, “What I want, what I need, is an equal. Just one equal.” “Just one?” Kwame asks. Luke shrugs, “Well, maybe more, but just one is good enough for now.” Kwame shakes his head, still incredulous, “And that’s me?” Collin grins, “Why not? He said it himself, he and Asa fell into those roles. You may be in awe of him, but you’ll still call him on his bull shit, and that’s what he wants.” “Yeah. I guess. But I can’t back it up.” Kwame responds. Luke shakes his head, “Worried I’ll get angry and kill you some day?” Kwame thins his eyes, “Thought did occur.” Luke turns to him, “I won’t, because I know I could.” “What? That makes no fucking sense!” Kwame yells. Collin raises an eyebrow, “I… think I understand.” Luke nods, “It would prove nothing. But you standing up to me? That’s real courage. That proves something.” Kwame shakes his head, “Naw. That’s the bull shit talking.” Luke grins, “It is isn’t it? See? This is why I need you.” Collin laughs, “And now that both of you have stopped sulking, shall we go?” Luke nods in response. “Sure!” Kwame says, and the three of them turn and walk back up the tunnel. The second room is suspiciously empty when they enter it, “Someone upped the stealthy.” Kwame says as he looks around, “Luke, you got perception right?” Luke nods, “Not enough to just see whatever’s there.” “Assuming something is there,” Collin says. Kwame raises his eyebrow, “Dude, really?” Collin shakes his head, “Don’t get me wrong, I think something is there. But that doesn’t mean we’re right.” Luke nods, “There is something there, but its stealth is immense.” He then makes is map visible to the rest of them, “See those dots?” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “...I don’t think that’s stealth.” Luke’s eyes widen, “Right! They could just be in a concealed area.” Collin thinks for a moment, “But the room is empty… unless...” He looks up, “That’s gotta be what it is. I can’t see a ceiling, only darkness.” “I can’t think of any goblins who can cling to ceilings.” Luke says, “Especially not at our power level.” Collin thinks for a moment, “It could be a new kind of enemy. We know the temple raid boss is new, we can assume they added other new stuff as well.” “Maybe we’re over thinkin’ this.” Kwame muses, “Weren’t there spiders here before?” “That’s right, there were.” Luke remembers. Collin nods, “It’s true. We didn’t run into any so I’d forgotten.” “Did anyone prepare for poison?” Kwame asks. Luke nods, “I always keep antidotes on me.” Collin shakes his head, “I’m pretty bad about ailments to be honest.” Kwame nods, “Normally I don’t fight, so...” “So, my stock of antidotes is our only out to poison?” Luke asks. Collin shakes his head, “I’m gonna stock up on ailment restoration as soon as we get back to town.” Luke thinks for a moment, “Should we fight?” “Are you crazy?” Kwame asks. Collin raises an eyebrow, “What are you thinking?” “We could end up in this situation again. We should practice avoiding ailments. The poison here is really weak, 1 or 2 damage a second right?” Luke asks. “Unless they changed it.” Collin notes. Luke shakes his head, “Things have been balanced so far.” Collin thinks, “We should prepare to escape if we need to though. No risks.” Luke nods, “Agreed.” “Luke, give me the antidotes.” Kwame says, “That way you can concentrate on kicking ass.” Collin nods, “That’s a good idea.” Luke nods and complies. “Are we ready?” Luke asks. Collin and Kwame nod so they enter the chamber. Rather than moving across the middle, they take the longer route sidling around the edge to keep their blindsides facing the wall. When they are about halfway through six large spiders drop from the ceiling at various points in the room, though only the one closest to them reacts to their presence. As it turns towards them, Collin casts a quick bolt. The spider turns out to have much fewer HP than the goblins and the bolt does more than half of its health. Luke moves forward for the killing blow, but finds his attack deals around a third of the damage he was doing earlier. “This spider is elite.” Luke says as he parries the spider’s bite. Collin nods, “That doesn’t surprise me.” He steps back and let’s Luke hit it the few more times it takes to defeat it. Luke smiles, “Still easy to parry.” The other five spiders don’t seem to be paying them any mind. “I bet they’re programmed to surround people in the center.” Collin says. Luke nods, “Probably.” Kwame thinks for a moment, “Ya think a bonus room spawned?” Collin’s eye’s widen, “You know… I bet Kwame’s right. This probably is a bonus room!” Luke smiles, “Then we should clear it.” Collin nods, “It seems to be designed to be pretty easy. Sure, if you get ambushed it could be a problem, but I’m guessing the spiders were specifically programmed not to follow you once you leave the general area. Luke nods, “They aren’t paying us any mind.” Kwame grins, “So, just be careful. Hit them one at a time.” Collin nods, “I’ll draw them out with bolt while you concentrate on parrying. Just keep it busy until my cooldown fades. No reason to risk you getting poisoned. Magic does way more damage anyway.” Luke nods, “Yeah. I can tank.” The next two go easily. They sidle towards it around the wall, wait until it is at the furthest point from the other spiders in the room and then Luke takes a swing at it, no sword equip this time, as he wants to have his knife at the ready to parry. After the spider is in melee with Luke, Collin stands behind it and shoots it with bolt followed by spark cannon. The two spells in combination defeat it. After that Kwame heals Luke while they wait for Collin’s spell cool. The fourth spider, on the other hand, does something unexpected. When Collin casts bolt on it, it responds by casting spark cannon, hitting Luke for a good amount of damage. Collin manages to get out of the way, but the commotion also gets the attention of the other two spiders, which also cast spark cannon. They are far enough away that avoiding the spells isn’t that difficult, but it makes it more difficult for Luke to keep the nearby spider busy. And hitting it with bolt or spark cannon just causes it to use spark cannon again. In the end, Luke defeats the spider by using the sword breaker to reflect enough damage to defeat it while Kwame heals him. Collin defeats the other two spiders by alternating between bolt and spark cannon to keep them from casting on Luke. His damage is such that he manages to defeat the two in about the same amount of time as it takes Luke to defeat the one he’s parrying, but his MP is significantly drained. When the last spider goes down, Collin and Luke look at each other and find wide grins. “That was exhilarating!” Collin says. Luke nods back, “Yeah!” He walks to the gold chest that appears in the middle of the room. “Na ah! You ain’t opening that!” Kwame says, “You guys just beat the crap out of a bunch of spiders. I’ll see what we got.” Luke nods, “Go for it.” Kwame sighs when the chest isn’t trapped and he grins at what he finds, “Dude! It had a prism boost soul orb in it!” Luke grins, “Always clear rooms, check.” Collin nods, “Keep that safe Kwame. We’ll give it to Ben and Theo, so we can make sure someone who wants it for their build gets it.” Kwame grins back in response, “Roger that!” Moving forward is slower, since the next hallway has more unit pairs and more elite units. Eventually, they agree that Kwame being their insurance is no longer viable, and instead they should be a three man team. The few spiders they run into prove to be the most irritating part, since some of them counter spells with spark cannon. Though Collin theorizes they counter fire or ice spells with a specific spell of that element. At the end of the hallway is a large skin with a mosaic of symbols and patterns. “This must be the boss room.” Collin says with a raised eyebrow, “It’s more ornate than before.” Luke looks to the side to see a smaller, less ornate skin. He walks over to it and looks inside, “Safe room.” Kwame pulls them both into the safe room, “Guys, you suck at this.” Collin raises an eyebrow at him, “What do you mean?” Kwame shakes his head, “Standing right in front of a safe room? You askin’ to get killed?” Luke nods, “He has a point.” Collin sighs, “Yeah. I’m just not used to thinking like that.” Luke shakes his head, “We’ve gotta start.” Collin nods, “I know.” Kwame leans against the wall, “So whaddya wanna do? The boss is probably the goblin king. Think they weakened it? It was the Temple guardian before.” Collin nods, “Probably. The enemies in this dungeon are about the same power they always were.” Luke thinks for a moment, “We’re a bad team for this fight.” Kwame nods, “Three manning it without AOEs gonna be rough.” Collin nods, “I thought of that. The key to this fight is going to be Kwame.” Kwame raises an eyebrow at him, “Dude, me? But I got no offense at all!” Collin shakes his head, “That’s not true. You have high stealth, which means you automatically have high blindside damage.” He turns to Luke, “Now that you have a sword breaker, you don’t need your knife do you?” Luke shakes his head, “No. You want me to give it to Kwame?” Collin nods, “Unless you have a better knife Kwame?” Kwame shakes his head, “No.” Collin nods, “The Goblin king, at least before, starts summoning goblins at seventy five percent HP. He starts summoning elite goblins at fifty percent HP. Now the big issue is the elite goblins which have the ability to buff and lead goblins, but they don’t spawn in as great numbers.” Luke nods, “So you want us to get it to almost seventy five percent HP, and then for Kwame to blindside it to get it to below fifty so we don’t have to worry about regular goblins at all?” Collin nods, “After that, we’ll wait until there are two elite goblins. At that point I’ll use my scroll of chain lightning. After that, you guys should help me clean up whatever’s left.” “Uh… I’m not sure about this...” Kwame says. “I’ve never done this before.” Luke grins at him, “This’ll be easy. Asa and I used to do this all the time. I’ll keep his attention and maneuver him into position. You just watch his HP. When it reaches seventy five percent? Bam!” Collin nods, “Normally, you’d have to worry about the aggro spike, but the Goblin King isn’t very powerful on his own. The entire danger of the fight comes from the minions.” “So, what you’re saying is, if I pull this off, the fight’ll be cake?” Kwame asks. Luke nods, “Yeah. But don’t stress. I’m pretty confident I could solo the fight, so it’s not all on your shoulders.” Collin raises his eyebrows, “You could solo the fight?” Luke grins, “I’ve solo’d the temple raid version before with less stats than I have now.” Kwame shakes his head and whistles, “Man! Tall&Zxy! You really are the shitz!” Collin nods, “Yeah.” “So… you think you’ll be able to solo it now?” Kwame asks. Luke shakes his head, “We’re not gonna find out. I’m not gonna solo a boss when I can’t die.” Collin nods, “He’s just saying that, if push comes to shove, he can take the forefront and leave us to crowd clearing duty.” Luke shakes his head, “Actually, I’d prefer Kwame on healing duty.” Collin nods, “That’s fair.” Kwame equips the knife, “So...” “Just stab. The attack assister will do the work for you,” Luke says. Kwame raises his eyebrows, “You’re not serious.” Luke grins, “I’m right handed.” “What!? But you fight with your left hand!” Kwame exclaims. Luke nods, “The attack assister does the fighting. Main hand has to do the menu work.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Ya think I should learn it?” Luke raises an eyebrow, “Spiral mastery?” Kwame nods. Luke shakes his head, “Not if you don’t want to. Spiral mastery is just one route. Look at Collin.” Collin grins at Luke knowingly, “Ah, so you do respect me now?” Luke looks down sheepishly, “I never disrespected you.” Collin laughs, “But you used to think skill was everything. You rarely posted, but when you did? It was always to talk up how skill can make up for a bad build but a good build can always be made better with it.” Luke scratches the back of his head, “I was a douche wasn’t I?” Collin shrugs, “A bit. You weren’t wrong exactly. You just had a very narrow definition of skill.” Luke sighs, “I’m learning I had a narrow view of a lot of things.” Kwame laughs, “Dude. That’s what being a teenager is all about.” “I’m nineteen.” Luke says. Kwame grins, “Still a teen. Now if you were twenty, then we’d have to shoot you.” Collin shakes his head, “You know there isn’t a big difference between being nineteen and being twenty right?” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “How old are you?” Collin shrugs, “Twenty one.” Kwame grins, “Man! If we weren’t stuck in here I’d be braggin’ about hanging out with two studly college guys!” Collin laughs, “Hear that Luke?” Luke grins, “I can live with being studly.” Kwame nods, “So cap’n, we ready to kick some Goblin King ass?” Luke nods, “Yep!” Collin stands up, “I should probably point out now that if it isn’t the Goblin King, we should probably retreat and call it a night.” “Yeppers.” Kwame responds. Luke nods, “Definitely.” A moment later they are standing in front of the boss chamber. “Are we ready?” Collin asks. Luke nods, “I’m ready.” Kwame grins, “Let’s kick some ass.” Luke pulls the skin to the side revealing solid black. He steps into the darkness and the room takes shape before him. Though he’s pretty sure the shape of the room won’t have much effect on the battle, he notes that the room is completely different from the hexagonal room the Goblin King was in in the Temple. This room has rough cave like walls, but is essentially square shaped, with the entrance in one corner. The Goblin King himself stands slightly past the center of the room and stares at them. “He’s not doing anything.” Kwame says under his breath. “The old boss of the crystal cave didn’t do anything either, until it took damage or you crossed the center of the room.” Luke says. Kwame nods, “I know. It’s just… dude. Seein’ the fucking Goblin King just sittin’ there is weird.” Collin shakes his head, “If he’s anything like the other first boss, he’ll start his AI script if we wait ten minutes.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Ten whole minutes?” Collin nods, “Yeah. But we’re not gonna wait that long are we?” Luke readies his swordbreaker, “No. We’re not.” With that, he charges towards the Goblin King. Its eerie how the Goblin King seems to be watching him and yet isn’t reacting to his presence at all. Even for the game, this is atypical, and Luke has to remind himself that everything here is a program. Those thoughts fly from his head when the Goblin King reacts to him crossing the halfway point of the room. That’s when the first difference from the old battle happens: the Goblin King yells out and two Goblin Mages appear. He worries they screwed up for a moment but it doesn’t summon anymore. Its HP threshold scripts are clearly different, the question is how. The old scripts were a raid, so even if they were doable by most parties with a little planning, they were meant for a large number of players. He doesn’t have time to ponder this as he avoids a fireball from one of the Mages. Luke isn’t surprised when the Goblin King walks away, but he knows better than to charge after it. He’s happy he didn’t when he notices that the King casting a spell. The spell has a fire aura, and Luke is about to yell incoming except that nothing happens. He realizes the King isn’t dropping AOEs, he’s laying traps. That’s when it hits him, the Mages with fireball. The King running around laying traps, “They’re trying to create a trap web!” He yells as he enlarges his mini map. He sighs in relief when he sees his perception is high enough to see where the King’s traps are. Collin’s eye widen, “You’re probably right!” He thinks for a moment, “I think the King is going to run around laying traps and then pass the web to one of the two mages who will activate it.” “The fuck? First boss uses trap webs?” Kwame yells. “We’ll discuss it later.” Collin says as he charges one of the Mages. “Don’t kill both mages.” Luke says. Collin nods, “Just gonna kill one.” “Why not? I thought you said they’d trigger the web?” Kwame asks. “It’ll have a script for that. Probably make things worse.” Luke answers. He reaches the king a moment later and strikes out with a few knife sword swap attacks, trying to get its attention. “Kwame, get behind it!” “Really?” Kwame asks. “Same plan should work. Our best bet is to end it quick.” Luke responds. With Luke and Kwame engaging the king, Collin strikes the final blow against the mage he’s fighting. Then he moves to engage the other mage. But rather than dealing damage, he concentrates on disrupting its spells. Collin and Luke continue to engage their foes while Kwame tries to stay in position behind the King, throwing a heal at one of the other two every so often. “Get ready.” Luke says. Kwame has been watching its health and he’s already got the knife at the ready, but he’s nervous. He’s never really done anything like this before. But when Luke says, “Now!” he finds what Luke said to be entirely true. When he just lets the attack assister take over, the knife moves effortlessly into the King’s blindside. Kwame’s eyes widen when he realizes he didn’t do enough damage. He was supposed to do twenty five percent of its life, but he did closer to fifteen. It is a big enough spike to get the King’s attention, however, and Kwame’s eye’s widen as the king turns to face him. Suddenly the king takes around thirty percent of its life and turns around again. Not seeing anything better to do, Kwame blindsides it again. This time his attack isn’t enough to get its attention, so he blindsides it a second time and then watches as it disappears. Collin finishes off the mage he was fighting after he sees its the only enemy remaining. The results are somewhat anticlimactic. Aside of the drop list being longer, it’s exactly the same as any other battle victory prompt. Collin raises an eyebrow, “So, what now? Do we take what’s good for our build? Or do we give it to Ben and Theo and let them decide?” Luke and Kwame think for a moment. “Ben and Theo.” Luke says definitively. Kwame nods, “Yeah. We gotta start this right, or people will start to fight over shit.” Collin nods, “That’s what I thought, I just wanted to make sure.” Kwame smiles, “Legit.” Luke nods, “Agreed.” “I have the orb and sword, I’ll take stuff to them.” Kwame says. Luke smiles at him, “I’ll go with you.” Kwame shakes his head, but he’s grinning, “Worried I’ll take it for myself?” Luke laughs, “Naw, but if we’re gonna be partners, we gotta stick together.” Kwame nods, “I can live with that.” While they give Kwame the loot, Kwame speaks, “That was weird. The Goblin King didn’t summon anything.” Collin grins, “I suspected it wouldn’t.” Luke nods, “Me too.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “But isn’t that like… its thing?” “It was its thing, but this is really a totally different boss. It’s trap based, and the boss of the beginner dungeon. I suspect it still summons on the seventy five, fifty and twenty five HP thresholds, but only if its mages are gone.” Collin answers. “Right.” Kwame shakes his head, “That was a cinch!” Collin nods, “The old boss wasn’t that hard either. And you have to remember, we all had six hours of play with an immense boost to our soul energy gains that most of us spent entirely grinding. We may be low powered for the Temple, but there are two more dungeons we’re supposed to do before that.” “Right.” Kwame says, then turns to Luke, “And fuck! How did you do that?” “Do what?” Luke asks. “That super fucking damage hit!” Kwame says. Luke shrugs, “Exploit.” Kwame raises his eyebrow, “Exploit? I thought it was bad?” Collin grins, “Nope. It’s pretty great.” “I’m gonna haveta relearn everythin’ I know about what’s good aren’t I?” Kwame asks. Collin nods, “Probably, but for the record, people think it sucks because of it’s niche usage and large cooldown. In most cases, it doesn’t increase your average DPS when compared to other skills that one might put the orb into, and it’s harder to use since it requires you to critically hit or blindside with it to really be worth it. Exploit damage also is considered skill damage, so it doesn’t stack with the stealth bonus to blindside damage, unless you get the skill that makes it stack with skill modifiers, and even then Exploit only multiplies the base blindside extra damage. In short, Exploit is not a good skill for anyone who actually intends to use skill damage or blindside as their main form of attack, which makes people erroneously think it’s bad. “But for a high strength character who doesn’t have a lot of stealth but who fights on a team where they incidentally end up in position to blindside it’s a skill that can deal a huge amount of damage with little fuss. And if you’re a spiral master, it becomes brutal, since you can combine the knife blindside damage bonus with a much more powerful weapon.” Collin says. Kwame raises his eyebrows, “But I thought changing weapons didn’t work like that?” Luke nods, “With normal attacks, it doesn’t. Weapon specific skills keep their weapon category, even if you equip a different weapon after activation.” Collin grins, “And consider who Luke’s partner used to be? Asa often blindsides and his damage spikes are immense. I’m betting Luke doesn’t have Exploit for damage really, but rather to draw aggro back to him.” Luke smiles, “It’s also for damage.” Collin shakes his head, “It’s funny, you know? I’ve grown to appreciate a lot of skills I never considered using before.” Kwame nods, “It’s different here. When your life is on the line.” Luke thinks for a moment, “I wonder.” Collin looks at him, “What?” Luke turns to them, “Our lives. Is whoever is doing this willing to commit murder?” Collin sighs, “We have to assume they are, right?” “Fuck dude,” Kwame answers, “do we really have to go there?” Luke nods, “Yes. If they are, then dying here means death.” Collin raises an eyebrow, “Perhaps, but there’s not much point in worrying about it. Sure, if death means death, then we know we can’t die. But even if death doesn’t mean death, it doesn’t necessarily mean returning to the real world either, so we shouldn’t risk it regardless.” Luke sighs, “I wonder what Asa thinks about this?” Kwame shrugs, “Why don’t you ask him?” Luke shakes his head, “Because it doesn’t matter.” Collin raises an eyebrow, “You don’t think it matters?” Luke shrugs, “It’s speculation. Our options are to play the game, or not play the game. Since we’ve decided to play, we’ve decided to not die.” “What about answers dude?” Kwame asks. “Nothing we can do will get them.” Luke responds. Collin sighs, “I hate to say it, but Luke’s right.” He looks over to the back of the room to see the familiar blue exist teleporter, “Looks like exit teleporters are still a thing.” Luke puts a hand on Kwame’s shoulder, “For the record? It was good.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “It?” Luke grins, “Being the token straight.” Kwame elbows him, “Then ya don’t mind if I take a peek now and then?” Luke laughs, “Never minded when Asa did it.” Kwame and Luke approach the teleporter. “You know dude? I coulda done a lot worse.” Kwame says. Collin shakes his head, “We all could have. And I don’t just mean the three of us. I mean all of us. Luke, Asa, Ardine, me, heck, even you Kwame. We got a lot of good players here, and we’ll need them, because we’ve decided to take the hard road. I think it’s the right thing to do, the best thing in the long run, but staying in our rooms at the lodge would be the safest course of action.” Kwame sticks his tongue out, “What kinda life would that be?” Collin activates the teleporter, “Not a very good one.” He grins, “Hey! We can use this to teleport to town now!” Luke smiles, “That’s convenient.” Kwame grins, “So we goin’?” Collin nods, “You know, I did this just to test how I worked with Luke, but I think the better thing that came out of it was the two of you.” Kwame looks up at Luke, “Yeah. I feel a lot better.” Luke nods, “I do to.” Collin smiles, “I’m headed out. Make sure Ben and Theo get that stuff.” Kwame nods, “Will do.” Collin disappears. “Let’s go?” Luke asks. “You betcha.” Kwame answers and the two of them teleport back to town.
  2. Stephan looks at the house he just bought. The first day after his brother died, he’d gathered soul energy for when they found him. His brother was a good player. He wouldn’t have died that easily. Stephan was scared, but he didn’t gave up hope. Then Skydaculous, JiantHippo and MasterAshley, along with almost a hundred other people died on the easiest Temple raid. If that could happen, certainly anyone could be killed by skilled PKers. After that, he’d taken out his frustrations on goblins. He refused to add more orbs to his fate wheel, since he had been working on his build with his brother, so he had nothing to use his soul energy on. Before he knew it, he’d had enough to buy a house. So that’s what he’s done. But now that he has the house, not having his brother to share it with only makes him feel more hollow. He thinks of Luke, who is really nothing like his brother if their few encounters are any indication, but something about Luke reminds him of him. Perhaps some vulnerability the man tries to hide. Like the vulnerability his brother tried to hide from him. A vulnerability he pretended not to notice. Luke is too busy, however, and as much as he wants to talk to him, he realizes how selfish that is. Luke is here to take care of everyone, not just him, so he stares at the house that’s his. Identical in every way to the houses next to it, on a street with the potential to extend nearly endlessly. The only limitation being the fact that each account can only own a single house. “What’s wrong?” When Stephan turns in the direction the voice came from, he sees an old man watching him from the other side of the road. “Nothing.” He responds. The man smiles at him, “It must be a pretty big nothing then, if it’s preventing you from stepping into the house you just bought.” Stephan walks over to him, “I just keep wondering what the point is.” The man patiently waits for him to continue. “I have a house. But it’s not even real!” The man takes a deep breath, “Can you smell that?” Stephan blinks at him, “Smell what?” The man looks at him knowingly, “Exactly. You haven’t even tried to smell anything here have you?” Stephan blinks again, “What?” The man looks up, “How old are you?” “Fourteen.” Stephan answers hesitantly. The man shakes his head, “I know you’re probably thinking you’re getting old for fantasy, but sometimes fantasy is the best thing you could ask for.” “What do you mean?” Stephan asks curiously. The man takes a deep breath again, “I ask you again, can you smell that?” Stephan realizes he didn’t actually take a breath, and when he does, he isn’t sure what he smells. But he knows he smells something. “I smell...” He shuts his eyes and he still can’t tell what he’s smelling. “I don’t know.” The man laughs, “Neither do I! Why do you think I was asking?” Stephan blinks again, “What?” The man’s smile is knowing again, “But isn’t that the point?” “Isn’t what the point?” This old man is kooky, but Stephan thinks he’s going somewhere with this. “That’s the real power of fantasy. You can know the unknowable. You can find this smell.” He grins. Stephan shakes his head, “But the smell isn’t real.” The man tilts his head to the side, “Isn’t it? You sense it right?” Stephan blinks, “Yeah.” “Then what’s not real about it?” He asks. “Nothing here is real. It’s a digital landscape.” Stephan responds incredulously. The man nods, “Ah, I see. So by ‘real’ you mean ‘IRL’ or ‘physical’.” Stephan isn’t sure how to responds to that, so he just listens. “Smell it again? Isn’t it real enough?” Stephan looks down, “Despite the fact that this is all in my head?” “Maybe.” The man says. “Or maybe I’m asking why that matters?” Stephan looks at the house, “I guess owning a digital house is better than owning no house at all.” The man gives him a look, “So? Are you going to go inside?” Stephan nods, “I guess I should.” He turns to the man, “I’m Stephan.” The man smiles, “Mitchell.” “Thanks Mitchell!” He says before dashing across the street towards his new home. He feels a bit better for some reason. Maybe, he just doesn’t feel as alone. Meanwhile Ben finds himself surrounded by other players as he tries to get himself organized. He hadn’t expected the main issue he’d have as the local artisan being too many people seeking his help, but that’s exactly what’s happening. Another person, this time a boy in his mid to late teens, walks up. “So, I was hoping I could get a collar made. For my pet.” He asks. Ben blinks. He hasn’t gotten the skills for that yet. He knows he should, but people don’t usually use pets, so it hasn’t been a priority for him. “Um… I’m sorry but… I don’t have the skill ranks for that yet.” Fortunately the boy just sighs, “I guess that makes sense.” He looks around. “You do have a lot on your shoulders.” Jacklyn appears next to them, “And he’s handling it well.” She scrutinizes the situation, “So what’s up?” The boy sighs, “It’s not a big deal.” Jacklyn puts a supportive hand on his shoulder, “Of course it is. If it’s causing you to feel this down, it’s a big deal.” “It’s just, I wanted a collar for my pet and...” He trails off. Jacklyn grins, “Pets! Man! I always forget about that.” She turns to Ben, “Hey! Let’s get that hole in your skills fixed right now, shall we?” Ben looks up at her, “I thought you wanted me to get higher armor ranks.” Jacklyn shakes her head, “We can work on that later. Jerome said he has a huge haul. We can get your armor smithing ranks from that. For now, we should start getting your leather working subskills up to snuff.” She turns to the boy, “If you have some time to wait?” He smiles, though a bit wearily, “Thank you.” Ben looks up at the other people waiting around, “Is that okay with all of you?” To his surprise, no one seems to have a problem waiting. Ben sighs, “I’m sorry Jacklyn.” Jacklyn shakes her head, “You’re doing great.” She turns to everyone, “Aren’t they doing great?” The response is supportive cheers. Then Theo steps forward, “Looks like now is a good time to showcase the stuff people have brought in! A lot of people have been turning in anything they don’t need so that it can be given to people whose builds want it!” He smiles, “The stuff is one of a kind, so we’re gonna have to distribute it fairly, and if you can think of anyone else who it might help more? Please mention it. We want everyone to be as strong as they can be!” This gets people’s attention. Jacklyn smiles, “He’s getting into this.” Ben nods, “He’s always been like this.” “Maybe you should follow his lead?” Jacklyn suggests. Ben looks down, “Aren’t you worried a fight might start for this stuff?” Jacklyn shakes her head, “We’re in a safe zone.” There are a bunch of cheers as Theo gives out a rare bow to a girl. “And besides, Theo is pretty great at working a crowd.” She looks down at Ben, “So, shall we get those skills rolling?” Ben nods in response. The guy looks at them, “Should I come back later?” Jacklyn looks at him, “You could, but it shouldn’t take that long.” He nods, “Okay.” “What’s your name?” Jacklyn asks eventually. “Armon.” He answers. “Well, Armondo, but people call me Armon.” Jacklyn nods as she points out where to put orbs in Ben’s Fate Wheel every so often. “So, thanks by the way.” Armon blinks, “What?” She smiles, “For bringing up pets. I really didn’t mean to neglect them. I honestly just forgot.” Armon sighs, “I know people don’t use them. I know they aren’t very good.” Jacklyn frowns, “Hey, just cause no one uses them doesn’t mean they aren’t good.” Armon looks at her, “Then you’ve used them?” She shakes her head, “No, but there are lots of great builds I haven’t used.” Her face grows serious, “And one thing that they’ve made sure of is that there is nothing in this game that’s truly bad. A lot of work goes into rebalancing things over time to make sure everything is usable.” “So, everything I’ve heard about pets is wrong?” Armon asks. “Not wrong exactly, more outdated. Pets did suck at first. And though they gradually got better, they were still on the weaker side for a long time. Even now, pets aren’t the best at anything, but that doesn’t make them bad.” She says. He smiles at that, “Thanks.” “So, what do you want the collar to have?” Ben asks after he finally finishes his skill ranking. Armon looks down, “Just orb slots I guess? I haven’t figured out entirely what I’ll do with them.” Ben nods, then looks up at Jacklyn who subtly nods at him, before turning back to Armon, “Just remember: we can put the orbs in for you. Don’t get the skills yourself, I mean, unless you want them.” Armon smiles, “I’ll remember that. Thanks.” He thinks for a moment, “You’re Trjreska right?” Jacklyn nods, “Hey. I was wondering about guilds. People have been joining them lately and… Now that I know pets aren’t just a no go, I’m thinking of joining one.” Ben hands him the collar, “Oh. That’s a good idea. How about we friend each other and I can PM you if I hear anything?” Armon thinks for a moment, “It can’t just be any guild though.” Ben looks up at Jacklyn, “Jacklyn?” Jacklyn smiles, “Of course not. But you’ll never find a guild if you never talk to anyone.” Armon smiles, “Okay. You’re right. Thank you.” Jacklyn grins, “Here, let me friend you too.” Armon looks down sheepishly, “You don’t have to do that.” Jacklyn shakes her head, “Of course I do. We’re all allies here. We gotta stick together.” Later That Evening “You know, the knife isn’t going to change no matter how long you stare at it.” Gail says as she approaches Jerome. She chimed in to help Jerome and Jacklyn grind energy for Ben and Theo as soon as she’d heard about it. Of course, right now they are taking a break from grinding and Jerome is staring down at his knife, pondering who knows what. Jerome sighs, “Why can’t I get away from it?” Gail raises her eyebrow, “Your knife? I mean. If you want to be rid of it, you could sell it.” Jerome can’t help but snicker at that, but his forlorn expression returns a moment later. “I wish it were that simple.” He turns to her, “I’ve been trying to change my build. After that night...” Gail’s smile flattens, “Having difficulty?” Jerome looks down at the knife again, “I never realized how little I learned about the game. I got so good at what I did that I thought changing my build would be the easy part.” He sighs, “But it’s not. I’m no good at magic. I’m not great at tanking either. I tried a more standard DPS build and I just... I don’t understand how to do it.” He sighs, “How do I change my build when there are only two builds I ever knew, both of which were designed to kill players?” Gail thinks for a moment, “Maybe you’re overthinking this. You don’t have to use a totally different build to change it.” Jerome looks at her, “But that was the point! To use a different build!” “Do you enjoy your build?” Gail asks. Jerome blinks at her, “I used this build to hunt and kill people!” Gail shakes her head, “That’s not the question I asked.” Jerome looks down, “How can I keep a build that I used against players. Players who are now gone. How can I enjoy that?” “I don’t think that’s how that works Jer. You enjoy it or you don’t.” She touches his shoulder, “But if you’re worried you’ll become some murderous psychopath cause you enjoyed one aspect of that evening? Come on!” She shakes her head, “This isn’t even the build you used back when you were big PKer. You made it on a whim for a character you were only going to play for six hours because of a skill roulette. And not only were you the first person to make a big deal about the fact that we can really die, you’ve felt as much remorse for what you did as anyone.” She watches him watch her, as if she’s got some ancient wisdom. Something she knows she doesn’t have in the slightest, but it still makes her feel great. “You aren’t the only reformed PKer left, but you are the one who agonizes over it the most. Maybe you should trust that means you aren’t a monster? Just a guy who liked hunting players when he knew it was all a game.” Jerome looks down at his knife, “So, what do you think I should do?” She smiles at him, “You are really good with the stealth build, aren’t you? Maybe better with it than you were with the stun build. You’re methodical and precise, and that build really fits that.” She looks out at the town from where they are sitting on the great temple balcony, “We kind of need that. The only other really skilled player at that is Asa, and his build is totally different from yours, aside of the blindsiding.” She takes a deep breath, “And I don’t like thinking about it, but what if he dies? What if he dies and we need someone who can do what he did?” Jerome shakes his head, “I’m not Asa. I can’t do what he does.” Gail looks at him, “That’s not what I’m saying. Don’t compare yourself to him Jer. I don’t even know if he’s better than you, like I said? Aside of the blindsiding, your builds do totally different things. I only meant that of everyone on the server? You and him are the best at taking advantage of blindsides. I don’t know him, but I think he’d agree with that, and even if he doesn’t, that’s not the point.” She smiles, “You might have found your calling. Don’t throw it away because you regret how you used it in the past.” Jerome sighs, “I’m scared too you know.” Gail gives him a rare forlorn look, “I know.” Jerome looks down at his knife again, “I did enjoy it. The thrill of the hunt. Getting the drop on unsuspecting prey.” He shakes his head, “But the enemies in the game aren’t unsuspecting. They’re not even real! I don’t know if I’d feel the same way. I don’t know how long it would be before I realized that the enemies can’t give me what I really want.” “How do you know they can’t?” Gail asks. Jerome looks at her with a raised eyebrow, “What?” She grins up at him, “That shit’s all in your head. Whether simulated or real, an ambush is an ambush. And you can still hunt other players. You don’t have to kill people to do that.” She stands up, a wide smile on her face. “In fact! You could totally help people and get that thrill you speak of! Just think about it. People here need to be aware of they’re surroundings. It isn’t like players are the only things with stealth builds or that monsters never use blindsides! You could like, be a blindsider against enemies! And blindside tag players! Get everyone on the server good enough that you can’t tag them anymore. Then get yourself even better.” Jerome looks at his knife, “I dunno Gail. What if I give in to temptation and actually kill someone?” Gail tilts her head to the side, “Have you felt temptation to kill anyone since this started?” Jerome shakes his head, “No. Mostly just guilt that I ever felt tempted to do that at all.” Gail shrugs, “So why worry about it?” Jerome looks at her, “Because I did do those things! And I enjoyed them!” Gail tilts her head to the side, “The other top players won’t let you go down that road. And they are also counting on you to do the same for them. Look. I was there that night remember? I may seem like I’m all hunky dory, but that’s cause I try to stay positive, not cause I don’t feel bad. You have been the biggest voice against PKing since this started. Maybe trust yourself, and trust the people around you to stop you before you go too far.” She thinks for a moment, “If you’re this worried about it? Don’t go solo. Join a guild. Find some people who will make you check yourself.” Jerome can’t help but snicker, “Wow. I… wasn’t expecting that.” Gail groans, “Yeah. And you won’t see that again. I hate it when shit gets that serious.” Jerome puts a friendly arm around her, “Thank you. Especially since you hate doing that and did it anyway for me.” Gail elbows him, “Well, it wasn’t just for you. I would like to survive this thing, and one of the best players moping around doesn’t really help much.” Jerome lets out a huge guffaw and the rest of the tension leaves his body. He wonders for a moment how some things, like tension, are virtually perfectly simulated, but other things, like arousal, are non-existent. Not that he wants to be attracted to Gail, but she’s a beautiful, funny and fun loving woman who he knows he would be attracted to under normal circumstances. Heck, he was attracted to her in high school, even if that didn’t work out so well. But maybe this is better. When he looks at her, all he feels is a nice sense of belonging. She feels like a close friend or relative. It does make him wonder though. Should be be seeking out a romantic partnership? Or should he just accept the fact that romance doesn’t exist here. Would that be a fresh start? Or losing a part of himself? The truth is, he doesn’t know the answer to that question. He does know, though, that in the moment he has no interest in courting Gail, analytical or otherwise, so he just lets it be. Gail stands up, “I think you should go find someone to protect.” Jerome blinks at her, “What do you mean?” Gail grins down at him, “I think that’ll help you a lot. Finding a guild that needs you. A group of players that need someone like you. Someone who won’t let anything happen to them. You have to care about someone Jer. You have to care about someone enough that making them happy makes you happy. Have you ever felt like that? In your entire life?” Jerome stops to think for a moment. The truth is, he’s not sure if he has. His family had a lot of love and would do anything for each other, but he doesn’t know if he’d feel happy about making them happy or if his love for them was born from obligation. Sometimes he even felt like the fun family times were an obligation rather than something he really wanted to do, even when he enjoyed them. His friendships, the few he had, didn’t last either, nor were they that deep. In fact, he’s probably made more real connections in the game, even before being stuck here, than he ever made IRL. So perhaps he doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. A person who makes him happy solely because they are happy. “And I can already tell you it’s not me. You see? You’re not happy right now cause I’m happy. You’re happy right now cause I got you out of your funk.” She turns away, “Besides. I don’t want that responsibility.” Jerome nods at that. What she says makes sense, “So, any suggestions?” Gail turns to him, “Get up off your ass and go find someone! You seem to get along with Ben and Theo. Go find some kid who needs a big brother. Maybe you’ll connect with them, maybe you won’t. But you sure as hell aren’t gonna connect with anybody sitting alone up here.” She grins at him, “Then once you make a guild, invite me to it. Maybe I’ll join? Or maybe I’ll already have a guild and be like sorry sucka!” Jerome shakes his head, “What happened to the girly girl?” Gail laughs, “The girly girl grew some fangs cause she got trapped in a death game.” Jerome frowns, “Ah.” Gail turns to him and shakes her head, “Don’t feel bad for me Jer. I feel good. I feel alive. I just wish you did too.” Jerome stands up, “I guess I should go find that kid huh?” Gail winks at him, “Now yer gettin’ it.” Meanwhile Stephan wishes he had more furniture now that he has seen what he can do with his house. It’s almost fully customizable. He can even alter the wall layout, though he has a limited number of doorways and wall segments to work with. If he takes the time, he can create his ideal living space. The problem is that the best furnishings are gained from quests. Quests that require you to fight. He’s not bad at the game, but he isn’t good enough to do vanity quests alone. Especially when he can’t die. But the only player he really knew was his brother. That thought makes think of how much he misses him. He wishes he could cry, but all he can do is emote and that’s so inadequate, especially when he’s only expressing it to himself. And perhaps he’s cried out anyway. It’s been days since it happened. Even if he can’t cry, that doesn’t mean he can’t feel the loss, the sadness. But he knows his brother, that Craig, wouldn’t want him to mope around for the rest of his life. Craig would want him to live. The question is, how should he live? He thinks of Luke again. The guy had almost gotten himself killed; well, maybe that was an exaggeration, but he’d definitely taken risks to protect him. And as much as he’d love to party with him, Luke is still busy, which means he needs to find some other options. The obvious first step is leaving his empty house, so he decides to do that. As he leaves, it occurs to him that going to check about getting some gear with those two kids who are being artisans might be an ideal next move, so he heads there. The truth is, he’s both envious but also deeply respectful of them. He’s not envious of their builds, he’s pretty sure he could never sit around making stuff all day, but rather they’re drive. They are doing this big thing to help everyone while all he’s done is mope around. When he gets to their player run shop instance in the bank, he finds a number of people there standing around, but none of them seem to be in any sort of line or hurry and most of them are older than him. He once again wishes Craig were there. He’d just walk over and start talking. Then Stephan thinks, why isn’t he doing that? Then he looks up at the much taller people and he realizes why. Because the older teenagers and college students intimidate him. Heck, a lot of other kids his age intimidate him in the real world, and now that he’s his own tiny self again here, they intimidate him again. It’s strange how he feels more scared here, in a safe zone where nothing can actually hurt him, than out there when he’s fighting for his life. “Hey. Did you need something?” The taller of the two boys behind the counter says to him. “I…” He looks down, “I don’t know...” “Hey! That’s fine! There’s loads of people around who can help you! Are you looking for a guild to join? Do you need help getting some soul energy for a build? Do you just want someone to talk to?” The boy’s jovial tone calms Stephan a bit and he looks up to see a friendly wide smile. The boy motions around the room to all the people, who are now looking at him with expressions ranging from curiosity to concern. None of them, however, seem belittling or threatening. “Uh… I guess I… was looking for a… Party maybe?” Then it occurs to him that maybe he doesn’t one to join a guild, but to start one. “I guess… I want to… start a guild.” To his surprise the boy’s grin widens, “Yes! We need more people who wanna do that! So, whatcha looking for?” “Whadda you mean?” Stephan asks. The boy waves around the room, “I mean, what are you looking for! What do you want your guild to do? Do you want to form a guild with your friends like the Indecisive Ones? Or a guild of people that you just met like The Blue Hand? And what do you want from this guild? The A team treats their guildmates like family. They even live together.” Stephan’s eyes widen at that, “Really?” He nods, “Yep! I could introduce you to them if you want. They’re super friendly.” Stephan shakes his head, “I met them already.” He looks at Theo for a moment, “Wait. Didn’t I meet you already too?” Theo raises an eyebrow, “You do seem familiar.” Stephan nods, “I think we met the A team at the same time. They brought you to Ardine’s room didn’t they?” Theo nods, “They did. Well, it’s nice to run into you again.” Stephan smiles, “Yeah.” He then sighs, “But, you aren’t gonna be able to join my guild.” Theo shakes his head, “Not really. I wouldn’t be able to fight anyway.” Stephan looks down, “I don’t know who to ask. Whose gonna want to join a guild started by a kid like me?” Theo laughs, but not unfriendly, “Plenty of people!” He moves him over to a where the shorter boy behind the counter is working with Jacklyn, one of the other players Stephan met that night. “Hey Ben, remember the guy who was in here earlier? The guy with the wolf?” Ben turns to them, “You mean Armon?” “Yeah, that was his name.” Jacklyn confirms. “What’s up?” Ben continues. The boy guides Stephan over to Ben. Stephan can’t help but notice that Ben’s taller than him. The boy continues, “This is… uh… oh I guess I never got your name?” “Stephan.” He says. The boy grins, “I’m Theo.” Ben smiles, “It is nice to meet you.” “You actually already met. He was at Ardine’s room that one day.” Theo says. Ben blinks, “Oh.” He then smiles and Stephan notices he is instantly more relaxed than before, “So, what do you need?” “He says he wants to start a guild, but he needs members. Didn’t that guy who you made the collar for mention something about needing to find a guild?” Theo asks. Ben nods, “After I finished his collar. But he said it couldn’t just be any guild.” He looks down at Stephan, “But maybe he’d join yours? I don’t really know him that well. I can contact him if you want.” Stephan shrugs, “It’s as good a place to start as any.” As Stephan moves to wait for Armon, a man he’s seen talking with Luke walks into the room. He walks straight over to Theo and Ben. Stephan wouldn’t have taken note of anything else except that the three of them look over at him. Theo leads the man over to him. “Just in luck. This guy’s exactly what you’re looking for Jerome. A kid whose looking to start a guild.” Theo says excitedly. Jerome looks down at him and smiles, “You want to start a guild?” Stephan blinks up at them, “Uh… aren’t you a top player?” He asks nervously. Theo throws an arm around Jerome’s waist, “Yep! You’re looking at Talyris. Now I know he’s a former PKer, but he’s changed his ways and been one of the biggest voices against PKing since this whole thing started.” Stephan looks away, “I’m not worried about that, it’s just… I know Luke and… don’t you guys have more important things to do than join some kid’s vanity guild?” When he looks back up at them they are both frowning and he looks down again before Theo speaks, “Vanity guild? Why would your guild be a Vanity guild?” Stephan flinches at that, but then a large arm falls around him, “Are you okay?” Stephan turns around and looks up at Jerome. “I… bought a house.” He isn’t sure why that’s important to him to say, but it is. Jerome tilts his head to the side, “A house?” Stephan nods, “And I realized I had no furnishings, and that the best furnishings were quest only so I… wanted to start a guild so I could go out and get them. It’s pure Vanity. A whole guild just so my house can look nice.” He sighs, “But you guys are gonna want to do stuff like Temple runs right? I’m… not good enough for that. I wasn’t nearly as good as my brother and he died! I...” “Your brother died?” Jerome asks, concern evident in his voice. Stephan nods, “He was PKed that first night. I would have been too, if Luke hadn’t saved me.” Jerome hugs him, “I was out there too that night with Luke. I saw… well… I’ll just say I’m not surprised.” He takes a breath, “I’m gonna give your guild a try.” Stephan looks down, “Are you sure? Like I said, it’s a Vanity guild.” Jerome holds him tight, “I’m sure enough to give it a go. But I do have one thing to ask.” He pulls Stephan’s head up so their eyes meet, “Will you take part in stuff like Temple runs? Once I get you up to snuff?” Stephan’s eyes widen, “What do you mean, up to snuff?” Jerome smiles, “No guildmate of mine is gonna be unable to take care of themselves. But don’t worry, if you don’t want to do that, that’s fine. But, you should know I will be helping with game content even if the rest of the guild doesn’t.” Stephan nods, “You mean you’ll join up with me even if I don’t?” Jerome nods, “I will. As long as you’re okay with me helping others.” Stephan hugs him, “Of course.” Jerome, like Luke, reminds him of his brother right now. Craig was always helping everybody. It makes him feel good. Jerome literally picks him up into his arms, and Stephan doesn’t protest. He had started protesting when Craig still did that to him, he is a teenager after all, but now he’s just happy to have someone care enough. Theo grins, “I’m glad. But don’t forget about Armon.” Stephan nods, “The guy with the wolf right?” “Guy with the wolf?” Jerome asks, intrigued. Theo nods, “Yeah. He’s should be here shortly.” Jerome carries Stephan over to the wall, then laughs. “I can’t believe you’re letting me carry you around. I’d never have let someone do that at your age.” Stephan smiles back, “I’ve been alone since that night. I… just…” He hugs Jerome, “It feels good to not be alone anymore.” Jerome responds by just holding him tightly. A little while later a young man walks into the room and Theo guides him over to them, “Hello Armon. This is Stephan and Jerome.” Jerome puts Stephan down before holding out his hand, “Nice to meet you.” Stephan does the same, but he says nothing. Theo shakes his head, “Stephan, you’re the one starting the guild. Maybe show a little backbone?” Stephan sighs. Theo’s right. He’s been worrying about stupid IRL stigmas that haven’t mattered at all so far. “Hi. I’m Stephan.” Armon nods, “Hello Stephan.” His voice sounds hesitant. Theo shakes his head, “Dude! Not you too. You said you wanted to join a guild? But it couldn’t be any guild? Well, Stephan here is starting a guild. And maybe it’s not the right guild for you, but you’ll never know if you don’t talk about it.” Armon sighs, “I dunno. I… do either of you have a problem with a pet build?” Jerome and Stephan blink. That is not what they were expecting. “A pet build?” Stephan asks. Armon nods, “I’m using a wolf! I’m… I’m not changing that! I know pets are...” Jerome puts a hand on his shoulder, “You really seem to care about this, so of course you can use it.” Stephan laughs, and Jerome and Armon look down at him incredulously. “As long as you can accept being part of a Vanity guild. I’m making it because I want furniture for my house.” Armon smiles at that, “Wait, really?” He looks at Jerome, “Aren’t you a top player?” Jerome nods, “And you’re okay with that?” Jerome laughs, “I am. I dunno. Maybe I needed that.” He looks down, “I’ve… been feeling pretty bad since this whole thing starter. Maybe I could use a little lighthearted fun.” Theo gives them a thumbs up, “I really think you guys should team up! Sounds to me like you all need it.” He then looks down at Stephan. “Hey… I dunno why, but I think I have something you’ll want.” He walks over to the counter and rings a bell to get everyone’s attention, “Hey! Does anyone here need a tower shield?” There’s murmuring but everyone shakes they’re head. “Then you won’t mind if I give one away?” A bunch of thumbs ups fill the room. Stephan blinks at Theo when he walks back over, “A… tower shield?” Theo grins, “I dunno why, but I see you using one. I mean, don’t change your build if you like the one you have, but we got a pretty kick ass ultra rare tower shield from the gatcha that no one wants. And you strike me as a shield kind of guy.” Stephan thinks for a moment, “I… guess I never really considered using a tower shield before.” “Well, think about it. If you take this shield? You won’t ever have to replace it. The gatcha unique rare stuff gets more powerful as your fate wheel progresses, so its always good!” Theo adds. Stephan looks up at Jerome, “You’re the top player. What do you think?” Jerome looks down at him, “Don’t defer to me for everything just cause I’m a top player. But… if you don’t mind, I’m not a tank. And I’m guessing the wolf doesn’t get a good tank build either?” Armon shakes his head in response. “So if you don’t mind, it is a role the guild needs.” Theo thinks for a moment, “Sounds to me like you guys need a healer?” Armon shakes his head, “I’m using the wolf’s healer build.” Theo grins, “Awesome! Sounds like you’ve got it covered then.” He walks back to the counter. Jerome smiles at that, “So, Armon was it? You wanna guild together?” Armon looks down at Stephan, “You’re our leader right?” Stephan looks down sheepishly, “I guess.” “And you don’t have a problem with wolves?” He asks. “I think wolves are cool.” Stephan says, not entirely sure why having a problem with wolves would be a deal breaker, but its the truth so it hardly matters. “And you?” Armon asks Jerome. Jerome shrugs, “I have no problem with wolves.” Armon smiles, “Than sure!” Jerome thinks for a moment, “We need one more front liner. A more DPS oriented build to support your tankiness.” Jerome says. “I currently use a lance. I could do a mixed build.” Stephan says. Jerome looks at him, “Is that what you want?” Stephan looks down, “I don’t know what I want.” He looks down at the shiny shield Theo just gave him, “But I… shouldn’t I do what we need?” “We do need a tank.” Jerome says, “So if you go DPS we’d still need another person.” Armon nods, “Yeah. Going without a dedicated tank sucks.” Stephan smiles up at them, “Then I guess I will.” Armon looks around, “So… how do we find someone?” Jerome thinks for a moment, “We could ask here?” Stephan looks around, “I dunno… I’m… Wouldn’t people here already be asking if they wanted in?” Jerome sighs, “I don’t know.” Now he looks sheepish, “I’ve never searched out a party before.” A woman in her twenties walks over to them, “I think most of the people here already have guilds, but I know The Indecisive Ones have been helping people find guildmates. The A team is pretty well connected too.” Jerome frowns, “I know. I was hoping to avoid asking them.” “Why?” She asks. Jerome sighs, “I don’t have a good answer to that.” She nods, “Collin helped me find my guild. And it was a woman named Ardine who pointed me in his direction.” “Collin is GoldenrodBoy right?” Stephan asks. “Yep. And Ardine was Bonehead Throkdar. Though no one calls her that anymore.” She adds. Jerome sighs again, “I know them.” “What’s wrong?” Armon asks. Jerome looks down, “I’m already indebted to them enough.” “How’s that?” Armon asks. Jerome sighs, “They stood up for me back when this began.” Stephan hugs him, “You said you were out there that night too, so we all owe you just as much.” He takes Jerome’s hand. “And maybe Collin can help us?” Jerome thinks of Gail. She’d tell him he’s being a dumb macho guy and to go see Collin already. He kind of hates that she’s right, but then he looks down at Stephan and realizes he finally feels good for the first time since he got here. “Okay.” “So… how do we contact him?” Armon asks. Jerome pulls up his friend list and sends Collin a message. “That’s easy. I have him on my friend list.” Jerome cringes a bit at Collin’s response, mostly because Collin is right. [ GoldenrodBoy: I never thought I’d have you asking for help with a guild. ] Jerome sends Collin what they’re looking for and, a moment later, he chimes in again about some candidates he’s got. “So, two women who both run the build we’re looking for. Only catch is, they come as a pair.” Jerome relays. Armon shrugs, “So, we get some chicks in the mix? Sounds good to me.” Jerome shakes his head, amused, “So as soon as some girls are involved, you’re suddenly suave?” Armon immediately looks sheepish, “I mean… I never had much luck with girls IRL.” Stephan sighs, “Neither did I. But… they are probably too old for us anyway.” He looks up at Jerome. “And, we’re not looking for eye candy right?” Jerome shakes his head, “No. And maybe I should find someone else?” Armon puts his hands up in defeat, “I’ll be cool. I promise.” Jerome sighs, “That’s what I’m afraid of.” “So, where do they want to meet?” Stephan asks. “I have to tell Collin we’re interested.” He looks at them, “I get it. I remember what it was like to be your age, but you guys have to chill out. They might not appreciate a couple of teenagers perving on them.” That causes both of them to look down in shame. “I meant it. I’ll be good.” Armon says. “I’ll do my best.” Stephan replies honestly. Jerome nods, “That’s good.” He them has Collin set up the meeting. Later That Day Armon looks around the swamp. “Uh… are we sure we want to meet here?” Technically, they are meeting at the safe zone outside the actual dungeon part of the swamp where the mobs are still weak, but it still makes him nervous. Jerome nods, “Collin said they’re grinding the instance.” He looks over at Armon, “Are you worried? We’re in a safe zone.” Armon nods, “I know. It’s just… what if they want us to run the dungeon with them? I know I’m not powerful enough for that.” Stephan shrugs, “Then we tell them that. If they don’t accept that, they’d be bad allies.” Jerome and Armon look at him again. “I’ve been noticing it for a while, but you are so much less nervous out here than you were in town.” Jerome notes. Stephan looks down, “Out here, all there are is programs. Things put there to give us mats and soul energy.” He kicks a rock, “There’s nothing to be afraid of out here.” He looks up at Jerome, “Not since you guys made sure of that.” “You aren’t afraid of dying?” Armon asks. Stephan shrugs, “Nothing here will kill you unless you let it.” He motions to the instance, “There? Maybe. But out here, as long as you have potions or a means of escape? Even a critical hit blindside from an elite won’t one shot you.” Armon can’t help but feel intimidated now. Gone is the awkward boy, replaced by a man filled with bitter rage. Jerome walks over to Stephan and hugs him, “It’s okay to be angry.” Armon just watches. Something is passing between them that he doesn’t understand. Stephan looks down, “What else is there to be? I can’t blush. I can’t cry. But I can seethe. I can strike out.” He looks up and motions around, “And out here? I can do that without hurting anybody.” Armon steps forward, “Um...” He starts but then backs down. Stephan looks at him, and can see the fear in his expression. He doesn’t want to scare anybody, and he realizes he scaring Armon. “Say it.” He almost cringes internally at how aggressive his tone sounds. Armon looks down, “Uh...” Jerome pats Stephan on the head and looks up, “Armon, it’s okay. Stephan isn’t angry at you. He’s just angry. He’s trying to tell you you don’t have to be scared of him.” He looks down at Stephan, “Right?” Stephan nods in response. Armon sighs, “Oh… I… was just going to say you can be happy. The game still lets you be happy.” Jerome and Stephan both look at him, a bit surprised. “I don’t know what happened to you. And maybe it’s nothing like what happened to me. Maybe the game took more from you than it did from me. But… I lost something too. Something really important to me.” He thins his eyes, “And it sucks, but I… don’t want to be scared, or hurt. I want to be happy.” He looks at them, “I want to find a place where I can be happy.” He hesitantly walks over to them, “And at first I guess I was looking for a guild that made me happy.” Jerome and Stephan look down, both guiltily, “but maybe… maybe making you guys happy is more important.” “What did you lose?” Stephan asks. “Me.” He says simply, as if that answers everything. Jerome looks over at him, “What do you mean?” “That’s it, just me. I don’t know how else to say it. Back when this was a game, it was the only place I could really be me. Now… it’s not.” He looks down, “I know that’s probably trite compared to what you two lost. But… I look around and see people adjusting to their new lives. I see people being happy.” He takes a deep breath, “I’ve been thinking about it and. I want to be happy with who I am. Even if that means having to find a new me.” Stephan looks down, “I want that too.” Jerome nods, “I think everyone does.” He looks at Armon, “But it’s not that easy.” Armon sighs, “I know. But it’s possible. I have to believe it’s possible.” Jerome and Stephan look at each other, “Armon. I’m sorry if we’re bringing you down.” Stephan says. Armon looks at them, “I’m still gonna give this a chance.” “Thank you.” Stephan responds. It doesn’t take long for the familiar flash of teleportation to produce two woman. One of them is tall and lanky, with long arms and legs, and just a tad too thin. The other is also tall, but rotund. The two of them are grinning wildly. “Hey! Are you the guys Collin told me about?” The lanky one says with a smile, before she frowns. The rotund one’s smile fades too, “What’s wrong? You guys look like someone ran over your cat.” Jerome stands up, “Sorry.” He isn’t sure what else to say. The lanky one walks over, “You don’t have to be sorry. I’m just wondering what’s going on? You don’t look like you were waiting for some guildmates.” Jerome looks at them, “It… well…” Stephan stands up, “We are though.” He steps forward, aware that they’ll notice he’s hardening himself, “I’m Stephan, and I’m the one who is forming this guild.” He motions to Jerome and Armon, “Jerome and Armon are both in for the moment.” “For the moment?” The lanky woman asks. “Neither of us was sure we wanted to be in this guild at first.” Jerome says, “But now… no, I can’t promise that I’ll want to stay in the future. All I can say is that this is where I want to be now.” Armon nods, “Yeah. Though the idea is… growing on me?” He sighs, “And scaring me.” The rotund woman looks at them, “Are you sure this is what you want? Like… no offense? But, we kind of want to have fun with the game while we can.” The lanky one walks forward, “Maybe they won’t be all doom and gloom all the time?” She sounds skeptical though. Stephan takes a deep breath and stands up, “I’m sorry for wasting your time. I think we’re not a great fit right now.” The rotund woman sighs, “That’s too bad. I was hoping to find a larger group.” Armon walks towards them, “I hope you find what you’re looking for.” He sighs, “I’d join you but I… kinda already threw my lot in with these guys and...” He looks over at them, “I think… maybe… they need me.” The lanky woman smiles at him, “Or you need them.” Armon smiles a little at that, “Maybe I do?” Jerome sighs, “We still need a front liner.” The rotund woman walks forward. “Why?” She asks. Jerome blinks at her, “Um… because the game requires it?” The lanky woman shrugs, “You’d think a top player who excels at stealth would have a less limited view of the game.” Jerome’s eyes widen at that, “What?” The rotund woman shakes her head, “Sure, having a front liner is optimal! But who cares about that? Sub-optimal doesn’t mean bad, it just means not the best. If you guys don’t want a front liner, don’t have a front liner!” The lanky woman nods, “Yeah. Find the way that works for you and do it!” Stephan smiles at that, “I guess you’re right. Thank you.” He looks at them, “So, do you mind if I ask you your names?” The rotund woman smiles at them, “Well, normally I wouldn’t deign to give my name out to complete strangers… I suppose I can make an exception for you. I’m Zuri.” The lanky woman shakes her head, amused, “I’m Kaja.” She grins, “And maybe we aren’t the best fit for your guild, but we’d love to party together sometime. Just, try not to be all mopey, okay?” Jerome can’t help but snicker, “We’ll try.” He gives both of them a look, “You guys just pair up?” Zuri looks at Kaja, “Eh? Usually we party up with whoever’s around.” Jerome nods, “That’s good. I was just thinking about two people I know who used to party together all the time. You remind me of how they used to be.” Kaja looks at him knowingly, “Why does that not sound encouraging?” Jerome looks down, “They had a falling out.” He looks up, “But that’s not what I was gonna say. It’s just… it feels good to see that. In light of what’s happened.” Kaja smiles at him, “Thanks.” She motions towards the dungeon, “So, we’re doing Bayou runs. You wanna join?” Armon shakes his head, “My build’s not ready for that.” Stephan nods, “I don’t think mine is either. Rain check?” Zuri smiles, “Sure.” “I hope you find what you’re looking for.” Jerome says. Zuri nods, “I hope you guys do to.” Jerome, Armon and Stephan watch as they head back into the dungeon. “What should we do?” Armon asks. Jerome ponders this, “Maybe we should do what they said. See if we can find a way to make what we have work?” Stephan nods, “Yeah.” He smiles a bit, “I’m glad we met them.” Jerome puts a supportive hand on Stephan’s shoulder, “Yeah. I’m glad we met them too.” “Should we go?” Armon asks. Stephan and Jerome nod in response.
  3. The game "physics" are important to the plot. So expect that stuff to never disappear. What started at something that Asa did just to make Brandon feel more involved? HAPPENED to work out! I didn't even know it was going to happen myself when I wrote it because Wake wasn't even a character in the story yet. I moved him from a different story that would probably never get written when I realized I wanted Asa to have a love interest, partially so I could write it but ALSO to make it so that people didn't just keep wondering when Asa and Luke are going to get together. And come on! If Wake didn't exist? Everyone would be expecting Asa/Luke whether it was going to happen or not! But then Wake's name (which the character already had) ALSO happened to start with A in pig latin... AND SO A MEME WAS BORN! Yep! The Sanctuary is awesome. And they already have the programming to do that, since rooms exist, so it makes sense that they'd do that for Sanctuary too, because the whole point of the spell is to give players a place to rest, recuperate ans strategize when there isn't a safe zone around. It would completely defeat the purpose if, you know, it wasn't, RELAXING! Yeah. It's one of the bigger plot holes in Sword Art Online (and many other similar stories). Put a bunch of kids in a digital world for years, and they... somehow... DON'T grow? And has no lasting impact on their physiological development? o.O Yeah. The title of this chapter may be my favorite in the entire story! Since it's a triple entendre with a lot of subtle meaning. Glad to hear from you as always!
  4. Brandon steps forward into the Goblin’s way, crowding it with his barrier bubble. While the bubble’s size means more things can attack him, he quickly realized that they can’t enter the area, giving him an immense amount of control over where the enemies can go. The Goblin attacks him, but immediately regrets it as the damage reflected off the barrier deals the final blow and it disappears. Wake grimaces and plants a large hand on Brandon’s shoulder, “You’re a natural.” Brandon looks down sheepishly, “I’m not that great.” Ardine shakes her head, “I have to agree with Wake. It takes most people a long time to realize that the barriers can also work as walls to block off enemies. You also have a good instinct for when it’s appropriate for you to take the brunt of an assault versus when the number of enemies that could attack your bubble is too large for you to handle.” “I think you’ve found your calling.” Asa says. Brandon grins, “In that case, should we go find more mobs?” “I think I should heal you first.” Wake casts a few spells on him. “I’ll scout while you do that.” Asa says and then walks off. Asa returns a moment later. “I found another few Goblins a little ways from here.” Brandon thinks for a moment, “Before we go, I noticed you haven’t been attacking very often.” Asa nods, “It’s good you noticed that.” Brandon raises an eyebrow, “Aren’t we supposed to be practicing our teamwork?” Asa smiles, “It’s true, and I admit I am holding back to give you and Wake more time. See, the enemies here are weak enough that if Ardine and I went all out, you wouldn’t get a chance to practice your jobs. But there is another reason why I’m staying back.” “Why?” Brandon asks. Ardine responds, “Because Asa is what we call an opportunist spike DPSer. His setup is designed not to deal a constant stream of damage, but rather to set up a situation where he deals a large amount of damage in a single opportune strike.” “So he’s waiting for an opening?” Brandon asks. Ardine shakes her head, “It’s a bit more complicated than that. You see, his attack is going to deal so much damage in most cases that it’ll draw his target’s attention to him instantly. Even if you had an aggro draw spell on him, it would likely overflow the effect and he still might end up with the most aggro. So the opportunity to strike isn’t simply when the enemy turns their back. How much aggro people have, the positions of the enemies, and whether he can land a killing blow or not are all factors.” “I think those Goblins can wait. As a tank, Brandon should know the DPS theorycraft.” Wake says. Ardine nods, “I agree. However, the post combat lull is almost over.” Wake sneers, “That’s no problem.” He then casts Sanctuary and the group sees a flash of light before they find themselves surrounded by a circular fence with an unlit fire pit surrounded by log like seats and a large tent. Asa walks over to the fence, “Wow! The instance created by Sanctuary integrates the surrounding topography now!” “This is quite immersive.” Ardine opens the tent flap and then laughs, “The inside of the tent is almost the same size as the whole fenced area outside.” Wake snickers, “The first time I cast this spell, I just stared in awe. You know, the spell’s effect lasts indefinitely now.” Ardine smiles, “That’s interesting. So it lasts until you end it?” “There is a leave sanctuary option in the menu now.” Brandon says. “That’s good.” Ardine says. Brandon raises an eyebrow, “There’s also an invite button. So we can invite more players here if we want.” He them taps a few things and grins, “According to the help menu, you can customize your Sanctuary similar to how you customize your room. Also, the spell is free if you are within an existing safe zone.” Ardine nods, “So, the Sanctuary spell now essentially creates an outdoor room. That’s interesting.” Asa moves to sit down on one of the logs, “I should get this spell. It seems really useful.” He looks around, “We could hang out here for a while, but would you guys rather talk to Brandon and get back to practicing?” Wake sits down next to him, “I’m okay either way.” Ardine nods and sits down opposite Asa, “I think the latter would probably be better. We can always summon the sanctuary again if we want to explore it more, and we do need to have this discussion.” Brandon sits next to Ardine, “I’m really curious what you guys mean.” Asa nods, “Well, to start, what do you know about DPS theorycraft?” Brandon looks down sheepishly, “What’s theorycraft?” Ardine puts an arm around Brandon’s shoulder, “Theorycraft is the technical or mathematical analysis of game mechanics. In this case, we speak more of technicals than math, since non statistical concerns have a heavy impact on the game.” Asa nods, “The term is pretty broad and has expanded over time. At its core, it really just means analysis of how high end, generally hardcore, players use or abuse the various game mechanics.” “I’d say the term isn’t that important.” Wake says. Ardine nods, “It’s true, you’ll come to understand what theorycraft is as you go. In many ways it’s more an art than a science, despite the name, and you’ll get a lot of varied opinions on it.” Asa turns to Wake, “You haven’t really thought a lot about this have you?” Wake shakes his head, “Not really. I was primarily an RP player, so I only really thought about the theorycraft related to healing, since that’s what I did.” Asa nods, “Okay then. I guess I’ll start.” He turns to Brandon, “Though technically there are six different general DPS types in this game, in practical terms there are essentially four. Ardine is an example of what is probably the most common DPS type: a front liner. Front liners are any DPS build who fights in close proximity to their targets. It’s common for front liners to have an off tank build, but there are plenty who don’t. What separates front liners from most other DPSers is they need a larger focus on survivability since they are innately in a place where they will take damage.” Brandon nods, “Okay. So front liners. Pretty self explanatory so far.” Asa nods, “Really, they all are fairly self explanatory.” Asa turns to Ardine, “Shall I continue?” Ardine smiles, “By all means.” Asa smiles back, “Okay. The second most common type are blasters. Blasters are simply the ranged equivalent to front liners. Blasters are capable of dealing damage faster than front liners in many cases, but they usually give up survivability in the process. Both front liners and blasters are DOT DPSers, in that they aim to deal a steady amount of damage over the course of an entire battle. In general, you want the majority of your DPS to be DOT rather than spike damage.” “What’s spike damage?” Brandon asks. Asa nods, “The term spike comes from graphing things. A sudden alteration in either direction in the data appears as a spike in the line. So a damage spike is simply when a large amount of damage is done at once, as oppose to spaced out.” Brandon thinks for a moment, “Okay, and why would you want less of that?” “Because it’s easier to manage aggro.” Asa responds. Brandon nods, “Oh.” “Anymore questions?” Asa asks. Brandon shakes his head, so Asa continues. “The next most common type is probably cannons. A cannon is oriented around using buffs and debuffs to set up single large explosions of damage. Cannons will often use elemental weaknesses to their advantage and typically have a large portion of their build devoted to what they are doing. There is a lot of overlap between cannons and blasters, and though you can only really specialize in one or the other, a lot of blasters off cannon and vice versa. While most cannons are ranged, hence the term, you can be a cannon that attacks in melee. You play it mostly the same way, you just close in to do your attacks. “My build is an example of the last common type, the opportunist spike build. Opportunist builds are highly varied, but the goal of an opportunist is to generate high levels of damage while using less overall build space by utilizing the combat mechanics, like blindsiding or critical hits, leaving build space open for other things. For example, I have a number of support spells. The weakness of the build when compared to a cannon is that a cannon build doesn’t need to worry about the situation, since the build itself produces all the various damage modifiers. “The last two builds that you rarely see are front line spike builds and opportunist DOT, mostly because, outside of a critical hit based opportunist build, they aren’t very practical.” Asa finishes. “Hmm… I see how opportunist DOT doesn’t really make much sense. But… what’s wrong with a front line spike build?” Brandon asks. Asa shrugs, “Nothing in theory. You could quantify my build, or any melee cannon build, as a front line spike build since I attack in melee, but to be a front liner you have to stay on the front lines, and if you aren’t hurting the enemies then they won’t stay near you. But the bigger issue is simply: what are you doing in the mean time?” Brandon thinks for a moment, “Couldn’t you do support stuff? Or off tank?” Asa thinks for a moment, “Non opportunist spike builds usually require a large orb investment. And a DPS off tank generally just wants to split their DPS with their tankiness. Since DPS produces aggro, most off tank front liners just have a little less damage in exchange for more survivability. You could do support stuff, I suppose, but most support stuff doesn’t require you to be near the enemies, so unless you are doing something odd like a caster off tank that generates aggro by casting within a target’s weapon range, you really gain very little by being near the enemies.” “May I cut in?” Ardine asks. “Thank you.” Asa responds. “Well, simply put, the only reason to be near an enemy is to control what they can do. Either to prevent it from reaching people behind you or to prevent it from escaping. If you aren’t doing one of those two things, then it’s generally better to be a safe distance away.” Ardine shrugs, “People try to do anything of course, but really, like most opportunist DOT builds, front line spike builds just don’t function. If you don’t do anything, enemies won’t stay near you, and most things that aren’t attacking or tanking leave you too vulnerable to retaliation.” Brandon nods, “That makes sense.” “So, while I’m primarily a spike DPS build, I actually spend most of my time in battle off DOTing, healing or supporting,” Asa says. Brandon grins, “And watching the enemy positions and life gauges.” Asa grins back, “Yep.” “I’d like to input something,” Wake says. Asa turns to him, “You don’t have to ask for permission every time you speak.” Wake looks down sheepishly, “Ardine did… I just...” Ardine smiles, “He’s not saying you should just interrupt people willy nilly, but you don’t have to ask to speak every single time you interject.” Wake smirks, “Okay.” He takes a breath, “Brandon, you should be watching life gauges too. The job of a tank is to mitigate the damage a party takes. But don’t forget that your allies have HP too. You shouldn’t try to take all the damage for the entire group. The group sum of HP is more than yours. As long as no one’s HP is reduced to zero, you’ve done your job.” Asa nods, “That’s a very good point. Fortunately, that’s something the lightning build is especially good at. Not only are the shields AOE, making it easier to manage who takes damage, especially from enemy AOEs, but the aggro siphoning and giving spells can be used in combination to transfer aggro from one ally to another. For example, if Ardine is in front of the enemy and I am about to break a threshold, you could transfer my aggro to Ardine. Chances are my spike damage would overload the spell, but with the aggro she already has, splitting the aggro between us would likely split the party aggro enough that someone else, especially you if beacon is off cooldown, could steal it away from me.” Brandon thinks for a moment, “So… why don’t you have more survivability in your build then?” Asa nods, “In the past, it would have been mostly wasted orbs. But now, I probably will sacrifice some support for some survivability. But I actually don’t want any aggro at all if I can help it. It’s not just a matter of survivability. It’s much harder to blindside an enemy that’s paying attention to you, so except for right after a large spike, my survivability usually isn’t helping the party any.” Brandon tilts his head to the side, “But don’t you use flash steps?” Asa nods, “Yes, which is why I can afford to off DOT on single enemies, like bosses, a bit more than other similar builds. But flash steps tend to have high cooldowns, so being able to function without them them is important for dungeons, large groups of enemies, or bosses with large numbers of threshold locks.” Ardine nods, “I think our team is going to have little trouble managing aggro.” She turns to Wake, “It did occur to me though that you should probably get the aggro transferring spells. With both of you transferring aggro from Asa, he should be able to spike with relative frequency, and I’m fairly certain your build will already have the skill ranks for it.” Wake nods, “I usually do that. Being able to make anyone off tank is really useful.” “So, we’ve talked about channel and redirect aggression… but you mentioned Beacon. Is there anything I should know about it?” Brandon asks. Ardine thinks for a moment, “Beacon is quite useful, but you won’t use it all the time. It generates huge amounts of aggro from every enemy in range, which can be problematic even if you have all the shields up. However, as Asa pointed out, our party has a particular use for it. If you time it right you should be able to use it to take heat from Asa. And Asa’s strike should be so powerful that even with Beacon you won’t take all the aggro in the area. Which you probably would do otherwise.” “What about on bosses?” Brandon asks. Ardine shrugs, “On a single enemy, Beacon is a powerful taunt, one of the strongest in the game, but it’s MP cost makes it impractical to spam and it still may generate too much aggro for you to deal with, especially if you already have aggro left over for some other reason.” Brandon nods, “So it’s dangerous, but it could save us one day.” Ardine nods, “That’s a good way to look at it.” Brandon thinks for a moment, “So Wake. We should stick together like glue.” Wake raises his eyebrow, “You mean so I’ll be in your shield?” Brandon grins, “Whenever you need to be, but it’s way more than that. You can heal me whenever I need it and if enemies are attacking me, you can stand next to them and use melee casting to generate aggro right? If you need to take some heat off me then, you can just step out of the barrier and step back in when you are in danger.” Ardine grins, “That’s remarkably well thought out! I actually don’t think I’ve heard that particular synergy between a lightning tank and a healer before.” “I have.” Asa says, “Normally, it’s not as good as it seems, since it focuses attention on two mages. It’s also highly reliant on the shields remaining intact to function.” He thinks for a moment, “In our case it’s probably stronger than normal though. Between the aggro transferring spells and having two DPSers, we should be able to trade aggro around with relative ease, so it’s a way for Wake to generate aggro and utilize his HP total without putting himself in too much danger or stopping his primary duties.” Ardine turns to Wake, “What do you think?” Wake thinks, “As long as Brandon doesn’t make any sudden movements, I think it’s a good strategy.” Asa nods, “It’s true. Wake would be putting himself at risk. If you move your shield moves with you.” Brandon nods, “I know. But that just means we have to coordinate. It could be me moving Wake out of the shield to take some heat off me, and then moving him back in. We’d be a team. I wouldn’t leave him hanging, just like I know he wouldn’t leave me low on HP.” Ardine faces Brandon, “And if we have to run?” Brandon turns to Wake, “We stick together. Or Wake could carry me. That would move my shields right?” Wake laughs, “Carry you? Wouldn’t that bother you?” Brandon shrugs, “Nah. Especially not if we’re running for our lives.” Asa smiles, “You know, the more we talk, the more I think this’ll work. The A team is gonna be really good.” Ardine nods, “I agree. We click quite well.” Wake sneers, “I’m glad I can help.” Asa laughs, “Ardine, Andonbray! Meet Akeway!” Wake’s eyes widen, “What?” Brandon shakes his head, “The A team right?” Ardine grins, “Well, it isn’t as if we take ourselves that seriously.” Wake raises his eyebrow, “Akeway?” Asa turns to him, “Have you never heard of pig latin?” “I’ve heard of it,” Wake responds hesitantly. Asa nods, “It’s a silly thing. You take the first consonant group of a word, put it at the end and then add -ay. So Brandon becomes Andonbray, Wake becomes Akeway, etcetera.” “What would Asa become?” Wake asks. Asa shrugs, “It’s more boring when the word starts with a vowel. Asa just become Asaway or Asaay.” Wake frowns, “That is more boring.” Brandon turns to Asa, “So… Ardine is in front. Wake and I stick together. Where does that put you?” Ardine grins, “Wherever he needs to be. Asa has been playing for a while, and he knows where he needs to be.” Asa nods, “It’s what being an opportunist is about, but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. If you need my help, don’t be afraid to call me.” Wake sneers, “Always.” Brandon smirks at them, “So, things went well?” Asa looks at him, “What do you mean?” Brandon’s smirk become a grin, “I mean between you two.” Asa grins back, “Things are great between us.” He ruffles Brandon’s hair. “Hey! I’m bigger than you!” Brandon yelps. Asa laughs, “There was a time when that would bother me.” He thinks for a moment, “Or maybe it only ever bothered me with Luke.” Wake raises an eyebrow, “So, you didn’t tell me a lot about that.” Asa turns to him, “What?” “With Luke. When you talked to him.” Wake responds. Asa looks contemplatively as the empty fire pit, “It went the way it needed to go. We’re still friends, at least, I think we are.” “What do you mean?” Wake asks. Asa sighs, “I mean we’ve needed some time apart for a long time.” He looks up at Wake, “We’d been living for each other. Taking each other for granted. I… I loved him. And I don’t mean that I was that gay guy pining for his straight best friend. I did love him like that, but I also loved him as a friend, as a brother; but, I didn’t love me. It was like, Luke had been my protector for so long that I’d forgotten it could be any other way. I thought that loving Luke was more love than I’d ever need. And I think he felt the same about me. Maybe not love, but that his feelings for me were all he needed. But one’s own feelings for a single person isn’t enough for anybody. I hope Luke joins our guild when he’s ready, but more than that, I hope he finds himself.” Asa smiles up at Wake, “I hope it doesn’t make you jealous.” Wake shakes his head, “I always knew you loved him. I know if he felt that way about you, you’d have been with him ages ago. I’m just glad to be with you now.” Ardine shakes her head, “Now I’m definitely jealous.” Brandon nods, “I wish I could find a girl like him.” Asa grins, “So, I think we’ve veered sufficiently off topic that we’ve been here too long.” Wake grimaces, “We can stay longer if you want.” Ardine stands up, “I think Asa is right. We do need to get some practice in.” Brandon stands up, “Fine by me.” He walks over to Wake, “So partner. Whatddaya say?” Wake laughs, “I think we’ll be a great team.” The four of them stand up. “So… what exactly happens when we exit this place?” Asa asks. “I remember reading about this,” Brandon responds. “I think we’ll end up where we were, and unless there’s another group in active combat around there, there will be a combat lull.” Ardine raises her eyebrow, “And if there is an active combat?” Brandon thinks for a moment, “I’m pretty sure it gives us options then. We can wait until combat is over and it’ll automatically drop us where we were as soon as combat is inactive. We can drop into the combat. Or we can let it choose the nearest non combat area and drop us there.” “That last one sounds dangerous.” Asa says. Brandon shakes his head, “It counts safe zones as non combat areas, so the furthest you’ll end up from where you are is the nearest safe zone. Oh! And any inactive mobs will despawn.” Ardine grins, “So, no time like the present. Wake? Care to do the honors?” Wake nods and selects to end the Sanctuary. They end up in the same place they were when they first cast the spell. “I’ll go scout us some mobs.” Asa says before walking away. “So, we should stick together right? That way if we’re ambushed I can quick cast a shield and protect both of us,” Brandon says. Wake nods, “That sounds great.” Ardine laughs, “I think it sounds like a good plan in general. Asa and I are just as protected by your shield, and it’s a simple matter to step out of it to engage the enemy after we get our bearings.” Brandon nods, “It’s a lot of responsibility.” Ardine smiles, “Feels good doesn’t it? Having a bunch of older people putting their trust in you?” Brandon grins, “It does!” Wake sneers, “You can do it. And you’re not alone.” Brandon responds by giving Wake a quick hug. Asa’s smiling as he returns, “So I found a couple of elite goblins. Seems like a good place to start.” Ardine takes a place next to Brandon, “So we decided to stick to Brandon, since his quick cast roulette skill can get a barrier around us in case of ambush.” Asa nods, “Sounds good.” And Asa leads the group towards their quarry. Later That Day Asa hangs back, watching as a Goblin swinging at Ardine fruitlessly hits Brandon’s shield as Wake heals the damage almost immediately. Asa could blindside it at any time, but he hasn’t really done much during the time they’ve been practicing. Since he can effortlessly one shot almost all the mobs there, he’s been insurance in case anything went wrong. Once again, his services aren’t needed as Ardine casually deals the Goblin its final blow. She could have killed it a while ago really, but she has been holding back as well; mostly to give Brandon a chance to practice since, true to Collin’s word, Wake is quite an effective healer. All and all, the whole afternoon has been a generally chill experience and the truth is, Asa kind of misses this. He’d been playing hardcore with Luke for so long that he forgot how much fun it could be to just casually smite helpless goblins. But that of course must come to an end eventually. “It’s starting to get dark. The night mobs are gonna be coming out soon,” Asa says. Ardine looks at the sky, “Do we want to stay around?” Brandon thinks for a moment, “I dunno.” “We’ve been practicing for awhile. I think we could use some rest,” Wake says. Brandon looks at him, “But we don’t get tired.” Wake responds, “Not physically no, but we’ve been doing this for a while.” Ardine nods, “Monotony is a form of tiredness too. Do the same thing too many times and you start to lose focus. Continue and you’ll make mistakes, or worse, start to form bad habits.” “Shall we head back to town?” Asa asks. Wake and Ardine nod in response. “That sounds good to me,” Brandon says. Wake smirks at Brandon, “You did good today.” Brandon looks down, “Except for the one time I got your blindside hit.” Wake shakes his head, “It’s okay. That’s why we were fighting weak enemies, because we knew someone was going to make a mistake at some point.” Brandon sighs, “You mean me.” Asa puts an arm over Brandon’s shoulder, “It could have been any of us. Its true, you are learning a new role, but there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve all been there. Heck, I’m sure you’ve been there.” Ardine throws her arm around Brandon from the other side, “All and all, I was quite impressed. The few mistakes you made were of the oversight variety. You didn’t run out of MP at a crucial moment or miscast a spell, and those are the mistakes that are likely to get us killed. Accidentally moving someone out of your shield is something that will happen from time to time. It’s like managing aggro, to say it’s the tank’s job is woefully inaccurate. Aggro management is something the whole party needs to do. Similarly, it’s our responsibility as much as yours to make sure we are in the shield when we need to be.” Wake sneers, “Yeah. I shouldn’t have been facing away from that Goblin anyway. That was on me.” As they enter town, Wake turns to them, “So, I guess this is goodbye until tomorrow.” Ardine raises an eyebrow at him, “Do you want it to be?” “I dunno. Aren’t we done for the night?” Wake asks. Ardine frowns, “And what, pray tell, will you do until tomorrow then?” Wake shrugs, “Go to my room.” “Rubbish!” Ardine says, “You have spent enough time alone in your room. You are coming with us to my room where we will decide what to do with our shared living space!” Brandon raises an eyebrow, “Shared living space?” Ardine nods, “We have four rooms worth of living space, but that doesn’t mean we have to live separately. If we organize we could, for example, use Asa’s room as a lounge, my room as an apartment, your room as our guild HQ and Wake’s room for anyone who wants their privacy.” Wake’s eyes widen, “You think we should live together?” “That was my intention, but if you’d rather live alone that’s perfectly understandable,” Ardine responds. Wake shakes his head, “I’m just surprised.” Ardine grins at him, “I think by now you should have realized that we are not going to turn away from you for a petty reason like your appearance.” Wake sighs, “I guess I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Asa jumps up on his back, “You aren’t getting away from me that easily!” Brandon laughs, “And you’re my partner. We gotta stick together.” Wake looks down, “Aren’t you afraid of me?” Brandon moves beneath him to meet his gaze, “Yeah, a little, but that’s what courage is right? Not giving into fear? So please, let me be courageous.” Wake shakes his head again, “I’m just… so shocked.” “It’s understandable, given what you’ve told us, but let me assure you that I wouldn’t have turned you away regardless. I’m pretty sure you know Asa enjoys your company. And Brandon, well, Brandon is maturing little by little. I hope you’ll humor him in the mean time,” Ardine says. Wake nods, “Yeah.” He turns to Brandon, “Fighting alongside you is one thing, but we’d be living together.” Brandon nods, “I kind of want to. You see, I’m kind of jealous.” Wake’s eyes widen, “Jealous?” “Yeah, jealous of you. You’re such a nice guy. I don’t want Asa to have you to himself. You’re the cool brother after all.” Brandon says. Asa turns to him, “And what am I?” Brandon grins, “The sensible brother.” Wake shakes his head, “So I’m not sensible now?” Brandon turns to him, “I mean!” Asa and Wake laugh in response. “Hey! You’re teasing me aren’t you?” “You said you wanted big brothers. Big brothers tease.” Wake says. Brandon laughs, “Okay, okay.” His expression flattens, “There’s more though. We laugh and joke, but this is really scary. Maybe being with you can help me deal with fear better.” Wake sneers at him, “If that helps you, I’ll be happy to live with you.” He turns to face everyone, “I’ll be happy to live with all of you.” Asa steps forward, “So, is it too soon for us to share a bedroom?” Wake raises an eyebrow, “You want to share a bedroom with me?” Asa nods, “The truth is, this could end at any time. And if it does, it probably won’t end well for us. I’m not gonna waste what time I have left worrying about pleasantries.” Wake turns Brandon and Ardine, “Are you guys okay with this?” Ardine nods, “Of course.” Brandon grins, “Go for it.” Wake grimaces at Asa who grins back, “Then I guess I’m all for it.” When they reach Ardine’s room, she places a table between two couches so they can sit down. “You know, I know this was meant to give us customized rooms, but the ability to spawn and move around furniture on a whim is really convenient.” Asa says. Ardine nods, “It is quite convenient. It makes me wonder how we’ll see the real world if we get out of here.” Brandon raises an eyebrow, “What do you mean?” Ardine responds, “I mean, as time goes on, we’re getting more and more used to the… physics, for lack of a better word, of the game. The fact that we took the real world for granted will undoubtedly combine with that to make it extremely alien feeling to us. In fact, we might even be past that point already.” Wake nods, “It’s strange to think about, but you’re probably right.” Asa sighs, “She’s definitely right. Especially since we’ll have been unconscious for who knows how long. We’ll be used to having supernatural capabilities, when our bodies will be weaker than we were before this whole thing started.” Brandon looks down, “You’re making me think we’ll wish we were back here once we wake up.” Ardine sighs, “We very well might. We’ll have missed large portions of our lives. For the adults, it may not be that big a deal, but for younger people, especially middle and high school students, it could have immense consequences.” Brandon’s eyes widen, “What do you mean?” Ardine shakes her head, “I mean that you’ll be older, but you aren’t exactly getting a standard education here. You’ll end up behind in school. And if you are too far behind, it might stunt your futures.” Asa thinks for a moment, “There may be another concern too. Brandon isn’t fully grown, and some people are as young as thirteen. Unless our avatars aging is implemented, which I highly doubt, you could end up in a body that’s completely alien to you.” “I’d end up with an adult’s body. But doesn’t that happens to everybody?” Brandon asks. Asa looks at him, “Not like this. Most people end up there gradually, so they adjust to their growth over time. You’d be suddenly thrust into an adult’s body, but you’d have the coordination and sense memory of your current body. I don’t know what the consequences of that would be.” Wake puts an arm around Brandon, “This is a lot to take in. And the chances of us being in here for that long are slim.” Brandon looks down, “Right. Because we’ll all likely end up dead before that happens.” Wake’s eyes widen, “What? That’s not what I meant.” He thinks for a moment, “Why do you say that?” Ardine looks at him, “Oh right. You weren’t here for that conversation.” “What conversation?” Wake continues. Ardine sighs, “We think that it’s very likely that this will end with our deaths. Assuming that we’re even in tubes still.” Wake raises an eyebrow, “How could we not be in tubes?” Ardine shakes her head and shrugs, “I have no idea. There are just a lot of things that don’t add up, and the longer we’re in here, the less plausible it all becomes.” Wake looks down, “I guess you’re right.” He turns to Asa, “That’s what you meant when you said this could end at any time.” Asa nods, “Yes. But let’s not worry about it. There’s nothing we can do but live our lives as best we can. If we get out, we can deal with that then.” Ardine crosses her legs and puts a smile on her face, “Which brings me back to our rooms. Asa and Wake want to share a room, and I presume that would include a bedroom.” She turns to them, “Do either of you have a room preference?” Asa shrugs, “Not particularly.” Wake thinks for a moment, “Asa, do you mind if we use your room?” Asa shakes his head, “I’ve got no problem with that. Is there any particular reason though?” Wake looks down, “I don’t like my room.” Ardine looks at him, “Then do you mind if we make your room our staging area?” Wake raises an eyebrow at her, “What do you mean?” “I mean, it would be quite convenient for us to have an area that is set up for planning and strategy and business. A place for us to work rather than live or play. It would also be a good place for us to meet other guilds in a more formal setting.” Ardine responds. “So, like an office?” Brandon asks. Ardine nods, “There it is! That’s the word I was looking for. Exactly, an office.” Wake nods, “I’m happy to oblige.” “We still have to decide which room to use as our main living space,” Asa says. Brandon shrugs, “I guess the question is, whose least likely to miss invites?” Asa nods, “That is true. We can’t enter a room without an invite, even if they are on our top friend list.” “There may be a way around that,” Ardine says. “Even in the original game, you could set up teleportation circles in instances. Even boss rooms can be entered and exited using this method. I also happen to know that one of the furnishings is a teleportation circle. We may be able to establish teleportation circles between the rooms, in which case you’d only need to be able to get into one room to enter any of them. I cannot guarantee this is the case, but it’s worth a try.” Brandon thinks, “I’ll scour the settings. There may be a setting for always accepting invite requests from top friends or guild mates, or even friends, though I’d never turn that on.” Asa shrugs, “Since the rooms are all the same anyway, why don’t we just use this room as our communal space?” He turns to Ardine, “You don’t have any objections do you?” Ardine shakes her head, “None at all.” Asa thinks for a moment, “Wake and I’ll be using my bedroom when we want privacy, but maybe we should use the rest of the space in another communal way?” “Well, if this is gonna be where we live. Maybe that could be where we play?” Brandon suggests. “Play?” Ardine asks. Brandon stands up, “I mean this place will be practical right? If we’re gonna be doing day to day stuff here. But we could set up Asa’s room to be fun. Make it artsy. If there’s any game furnishings like a pool, we put them there. We could use it for parties too.” Wake grimaces, “That’s not a bad idea.” Ardine nods, “I agree. It would also save us the trouble of having to redo the room each time we have company.” Asa smiles, “So that’s three out of four. Maybe we should leave Brandon’s room empty? So we have a space we can customize for specific uses? At least until we find a better use for it.” “That seems practical.” Ardine responds. “Any thoughts?” Brandon shakes his head, “That’s fine by me.” Wake nods, “Yeah. That sounds good.” Asa nods, “Then I guess we should start setting up this space?” Ardine stands up, “We don’t have a lot to work with at the moment, so anything we do is going to be preliminary. But why not?” Brandon grins, “Then let’s go.”
  5. Nightlit

    Last Words

    What can I say? When I write werewolves (even though your Lycan aren't technically werewolves, from a narrative perspective they are) I write brutality as an intrinsic part of what they are. Not to say that is a complaint against your choice to not write them like that, just saying it's a difference in how we choose to portray them. If I was writing this? War and annihilation would be the only PROPER answer to what the McKinney's did. Both because the only way to ensure they are never a threat again is to eliminate them, but also as a testament to the inevitable end anyone else who attempted to even try a similar thing would face. It's not even a question of how underhanded everything is, it's a question of respect. To challenge someone openly, even someone you are GUARANTEED to defeat in combat, you are respecting their right to an open death. To show everyone how strong they really are, even in inevitable defeat. To murder without a challenge? Is disrespectful, both to your enemy, and to yourself. It's a sign of weakness and selfishness. One wouldn't even necessarily need to not use poison or a sniper. If a challenge was issues before hand, and said challenge didn't name a particular time and place for a fight? Then any form of warfare becomes acceptable. After all, a true warrior should be aware and able to protect themselves at any time, regardless of whether they are in active combat or not. What's far more important to them than a fair fight, is a fair challenge that respects both combatants right to a dignified death. And this goes both ways. To respond to the McKinney's with anything but an open declaration of war? Would be to disrespect THEM. And to these werewolves? That's unconscionable, no matter what crimes they might have committed, and no matter how many lives it might cost. Just a snippet into how I write werewolf stories, in case I ever finish one of mine and it ends up posted here (which I actually hope occurs, but I haven't been motivated thus far to finish any). Perhaps this might give you some insight into the reasoning behind some of the comments I've given you? Both to this, and your previous, stories.
  6. Nightlit

    Last Words

    I do wonder if there will be another chapter. There doesn't seem to be much else left to resolve, at least nothing that can be resolved cleanly with a bow on top. Also, Dorian is dead and his last message was over. And this is Dorian's story. I do think he was his own worst enemy. If I were him and I knew what I knew? I'd have forcefully incapacitated Levi BEFORE exposing him. Probably ripped his arms off for good measure. But it was in character for Dorian to play the fool to the very end. If there's another story? I hope it returns to Chris and how he's doing in San Fransisco. I felt his story ended with a lot of places it could go. All and all? This has been a fun romp! Peace!
  7. LOL The lodge is specifically designed so that, regardless of what's going on? Neither the characters; nor that reader; will EVER forget that they are in a game! LOL Top player, top friend. What can I say? LOTS AND LOTS OF SPINNING IN THIS STORY! https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpectacularSpinning?from=Main.EverythingsBetterWithSpinning😛 Yeah. I love writing The A Team's dynamic. None of them are perfect, but they are just such cool people, and they really make up for each other's flaws. One could even say Asa and Luke completed their first arc. 😉 What can I say? One of the points of this was to just be a story that depicts gay without making it a big deal. To depict gay characters whose sexuality isn't irrelevant, but doesn't wholly define them either. I'm glad you're enjoying this!
  8. Nightlit

    Little By Little

    If it seemed irrational? That was the point. There IS no good reason for them to raid the Temple. It was a group of hot headed players who felt they needed to do SOMETHING. PKing was off the table, and no one had given them any indication of what they are "supposed" to be doing. And being arrogant enough about their skills to think that, despite being underpowered, that they could beat the boss, after all, they were fighting a boss that has already been cracked. That they've all fought before. That the best of them may even have successfully solo'd. Basically, it was the closest thing they could do to rioting. They did it to feel in control of something significant in a situation they felt powerless in. As for support, they brought around 90 people, which under normal circumstances would be enough to complete a Temple raid, especially one this early in the world ring. And the cracked earlier raids can be solo'd by powerful/skilled enough players, so thinking they could do it with 30 people and a good plan wasn't so unreasonable. In short, if they were thinking more rationally, were at the right power level, and weren't blindsided by a changed boss? They were highly likely to be successful.
  9. There's no specific event in or before the story that is precipitating this (except, perhaps, being trapped in the game itself). It's more just... they were best friends. Inseparable for a long time. And now they are changing as people and naturally drifting apart (really, they've been doing that for some time, but they didn't notice/refused to acknowledge this). And since they've spent so much of their lives until now together, and they are just starting to realize how much they were reliant on each other, they both know there is a good chance that they'll become very different people and that when all is said and done, they might just... have drifted too far apart to rekindle their friendship.
  10. Ardine watches her younger proteges talk from the door before she leaves. Brandon is paying rapt attention to Asa as he explains the menu. It amuses her how their social relationship is the opposite of what you’d expect. Purely based on their features, you’d think Asa was one or two years younger than Brandon, but their countenance betrays their real ages. Asa carries himself with the maturity of a young adult, while Brandon is an excitable youth. She can’t help but appreciate both. She’s too far away to really make out what they are saying, but watching them brings a smile to her face anyway. She turns and walks out of Asa’s room into the hallway before sending Collin a message. [ Bonehead Throkdar: Are you too busy? GoldenrodBoy: Helping Ben and Theo with their Artisan builds. Can you come to my room? Bonehead Throkdar: Of course. ] It’s only a moment later that she opens the door to his room. Collin turns to her, “I wasn’t expecting you so soon.” Ardine chuckles, “I was in Asa’s room. So it was literally exit to the hallway, send an invite, then enter the door again.” Collin shakes his head, “The metaness of the lodge is going to take some getting used to.” Ardine smiles, “On that note, I think it would be good for both of us to be top friends. Don’t you think?” Collin nods, “That does seem like a good idea.” Ardine walks over to a table in the kitchenette where Ben and Theo are sitting, “So, how are things going for you?” “Fine.” Ben says. Theo shoves Ben playfully, “Stop being such a scardy cat.” Ardine pulls a chair out of her inventory and sits down at the table, “Now now, be nice.” She turns to Ben, “Though there’s nothing wrong with being afraid, I do think you are being a bit overly dramatic. Be confident in your decision!” She leans back in her chair, “Speaking of which, how’s that going?” “I’m specing in smithing and engineering.” Ben says. “He thought that having the demolitionist skills would give him some ability to use his roulette skill. Which I approve of. We’re hoping that, since the stats of the creator rather than the user determines the effects of a consumable, that his roulette skill would affect the bonus damage, not the user’s.” Collin says. Theo grins, “I’m doing other consumables. Alchemy, brewing, cooking. I tried the mini games, and they’re pretty fun.” “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourselves.” Ardine says, then turns to Collin, “About why I came. My guild is in need of a healer. We were wondering if you knew someone?” Collin thinks for a moment then fiddles with his menu, “I might know someone.” Ardine raises an eyebrow, “Might know?” Collin nods, “There is a player who I have partied with who I know is in the game and typically plays healers, but I haven’t seen them since the event. They are on my friend list, so I know they are on the server still at least.” “But you have no idea who they are or even what they look like.” Ardine reasons. Collin nods again, “That’s right. They seemed nice enough when I spoke with them on forums, but they were very careful with their personal information.” “Hmm… well, I see no reason not to reach out to them. They are trapped in here just like the rest of us. At the very least we should find out what their roulette skill is, in case there might be a better build for them.” Collin nods, “What is your roulette skill?” Ardine shrugs, “A fifteen percent boost to all my stats.” “Ah. Boring, but at least it works with any build.” Collin says. Ardine sighs, “That was my thought as well. So, can you contact this mystery player for me? And then I’ll leave you to continue what you were doing.” “In a hurry?” Collin asks. Ardine shrugs, “Not especially, but I figure you’d like to get back to what you were doing at some point.” Collin nods, “That’s true.” He messes with his menu. “They say they’ll meet you in their room. I sent you their info.” Ardine nods, “Thank you.” She turns to Ben and Theo, “Have a good day.” Ben nods, “Thank you.” Theo grins, “You too!” Ardine smiles at them one last time before standing up, putting her chair back in her inventory and leaving the room. When she enters Asa’s room again, he raises an eyebrow, “That didn’t take very long.” “Collin was in his room.” Ardine responds. Asa nods in response. Brandon walks up to her, “So, we have a healer?” “Perhaps. At the very least we have a willing candidate.” Ardine responds. Asa walks over, “Meaning?” “He’s in his room and Collin gave me his player information. I can’t imagine he’d do that if the player didn’t say yes.” Ardine thinks for a moment, “I say he, because statistically speaking its most likely male, but the person could be a woman.” Brandon raises his eyebrow, “Okay. Does that really matter?” Ardine shrugs, “Probably not. I suppose I’m just being overly facetious.” “Better to be conscientious than not.” Asa says, “After all, it’s very possible there’s a transgender person here, and I can’t imagine they’re at all happy with what’s happened.” Ardine nods, “That’s a good point. I suppose that’s why Collin kept referring to the person as ‘they.’” “That bothers you?” Brandon asks. Ardine shrugs, “Only my academic sensibilities.” “Shall we go?” Asa asks. Ardine nods, “Yes, we should.” Ardine looks up ForTheThes and sends them a message. [ Bonehead Throkdar: I am a member of he A team, the guild Collin mentioned who’s looking for a healer. My guildmates and I are hoping to meet you. ForTheThes: I’ll invite you to my room. Bonehead Throkdar: I’ll invite my friends if that’s okay. ForTheThes: Okay. ] Ardine isn’t sure what to think of that. Given Collin’s choice of friends, he doesn’t seem to be the best judge of character. Or maybe that’s wrong. Perhaps he’s just a bad judge of emotional maturity. Regardless of her worries, she sends invites to Asa and Brandon. Something else occurs to her, “So, I added Collin to my top friends, and I’d suggest you do the same. We should also add each other. Having access to each other’s rooms without having to use the friend list seems convenient, and there must be other benefits as well.” Asa nods, “That’s a good idea.” He then adds them both. “Yeah.” Brandon says, and then accepts both top friend requests. When Ardine exits the room, she finds herself standing in front of the door immediately to the left of the stairs. Brandon ends up standing in the doorway to her left. Asa, however, ends up standing in front of the guest room. “Hmm… that’s interesting.” “Maybe, since we’re top friends now, if we’re in each other’s rooms exiting that room always leads to the door in the hallway leading to that room?” Brandon suggests. Asa walks over to them, “That makes sense.” Ardine nods, “Yes. I hadn’t considered that we’d just top friended each other.” Brandon shakes his head, “This hallway is a constant reminder that we’re in a game.” “It really is, isn’t it?” Asa says. Ardine laughs, “And yet, it’s quite cool. So much more convenient than an actual hallway with physical limitations.” Brandon nods, “Yeah, it is.” Asa shrugs, “It’s definitely interesting, but we keep getting distracted.” Brandon laughs, “Then, for the like hundredth time, shall we go?” Ardine nods, “I think we shall.” The three of them then open the main door and enter ForTheThes’ room. When Brandon sees the man standing by the stove in the kitchenette, he freezes. The man is extremely tall, muscular and broad shouldered. When the man turns to them Brandon’s gaze is immediately drawn to the man’s face. His eyes and eyebrows are dark and angular, giving him a look of great ferocity. His nose is small and slightly upturned, giving him a slightly aristocratic look that only adds to said ferocity. His lips are thin but his mouth is long, making it frame his face in a fashion that makes his ferocity very intimidating. His lips twist into a scowl, “I’m sorry. I was trying to make something nice for you all, but I can’t get the cooking mini game right.” The man’s tone doesn’t match his features at all. He sounds genuinely sorry he can’t be a good host, and Brandon isn’t sure what to trust. “It’s okay ForTheThes, we aren’t here for snacks anyway.” Ardine says. ForTheThes scowl deepens, “I know that. But I hate being a bad host.” Brandon looks to Asa for some guidance, but finds Asa’s expression perplexing. Or maybe Asa is himself perplexed. Neither case helps Brandon figure out what to do. Fortunately, Ardine seems unfazed “We’ll just have to postpone the pleasantries until a later date. My name is Ardine, though you might know me as Bonehead Throkdar.” She turns to Brandon and Asa, “This is Brandon and Asa. Once again, you might know Asa as BunnyAce.” ForTheThes lets out something between a growl and a sigh, “Bonehead Throkdar and BunnyAce. I never thought you’d come to me for help.” Ardine shakes her head, “Well, I’m sure you’re a better healer than either of us. And given the situation, we all felt it was prudent for the top players to team up with others.” “GoldenrodBoy told me you needed a healer.” ForTheThes says. Ardine nods, “That’s correct.” Brandon and Asa freeze when ForTheThes looks down at them. His gaze is piercing, his expression still an angry scowl. He growl sighs again and turns to Ardine, “Are you sure you want me?” Ardine raises an eyebrow, “Why wouldn’t we want you?” “If I join you, you might not get other people.” ForTheThes responds. Ardine shakes her head, “Perhaps, but as you complete our team, that’s not a huge issue.” Asa shakes himself out of his trance, “I’m curious. Collin said he hasn’t seen you around since the event?” ForTheThes nods, “Things were going crazy. People tend to be scared of me and I didn’t want to make the situation worse.” Asa nods, “Ah.” Ardine steps in, “That’s completely understandable, but you can’t stay up here forever. Not only would that be a waste of a perfectly good healer, but it’s not fair to you.” ForTheThes lips flatten making his scowl slightly less menacing, “Have things calmed down?” Ardine nods, “For the most part.” “What does that mean?” ForTheThes asks. “Most of the instigators banded together and raided the Temple. However, due to a combination of being disorganized and under powered, they were less than successful. That’s one of the reasons we are looking to form well balanced guilds.” Ardine responds. “I’m sorry for interrupting, but…” Asa hesitates for a moment, “Can we know your name?” ForTheThes nods. “I’m Wake.” He sneers at Asa and offers a handshake, “A pleasure to meet your acquaintance.” Asa takes the offered hand hesitantly, “The pleasure’s... all... mine.” He hates his awkward response. Wake can’t help what he looks like. Ardine pulls Brandon forward, “So, Brandon here is going to be our tank. His build will be a lightning build, but he is going the full tank route.” She turns to Asa, “Asa and I are DPS. Asa is spike DPS with some off support while I’m more continuous DPS and an off tank.” “My build is a round healer build. My aim is to get healing from every element.” Wake says. Ardine nods, “So, before we speak anymore of builds. Do you know what skill you got from the skill roulette?” Wake raises an eyebrow at her, “I rolled a 25% boost to elemental damage. It doesn’t enhance my healing at all, unfortunately.” Asa thinks for a moment, “Hmm… but I think that’s actually a good skill for your build.” Wake looks down at him with wide eyes, “It is?” Asa nods, “Yes. You can easily off DPS with only a few ranks in basic spells. As long as you are hitting weaknesses, your elemental damage boost skill should make up the difference. You’ll be doing loads more damage than someone else with a similar number of ranks.” Ardine smiles, “It’s true.” Wake’s face scrunches up, “There’s one more thing I have to add if we’re going to be guildmates.” Ardine nods, “Go on.” Wake growl sighs, “I’m gay.” Strangely enough, that snaps Brandon out of his fear, “Oh, that’s odd.” Wake glares at him, “I don’t want to make anyone nervous. I can look for another party if that bothers you.” Brandon shakes his head, “What? No. That’s not what I meant. It’s an odd coincidence. Asa’s gay too.” Wake’s eyes widen, “You are?” Asa nods, “Yeah. So you have no worries there.” Wake grimaces, “I’m happy to offer my services then.” “So, what should we do now?” Brandon asks. “I want to check out the gatcha in town square.” Asa responds. Ardine nods, “That seems like a good plan.” She turns to Wake, “What do you think?” Wake shrugs, “I think that’s fine.” Ardine raises an eyebrow at him, “You don’t seem very enthusiastic.” Wake growl sighs, “I’ve never been a huge fan of luck based game play.” “And yet you play MMOs.” Ardine asks curiously. “I mostly play socially.” Wake responds. “RP servers?” Asa asks. Wake nods, “Yes.” “Does that mean you aren’t that skilled?” Brandon asks. Wake scowls, “I’m not as skilled as I’d like. That’s part of why I play a healer.” “I suppose healing mostly utilizes the menus.” Ardine ponders. Wake nods, “I do like healing. It feels good to help people. But I started because our group needed a healer.” Asa turns towards the door, “I actually agree with you. I am not a fan of random game mechanics either, but there are undoubtedly some items only available from the gatcha and we get a free pull every day, so as long as we’re stuck in here, we might as well see what we can get. Especially since we’re early enough that even random junk is potentially useful.” Wake thinks for a moment, “That’s a good point.” Brandon looks up at Wake, “Um… I… I’m sorry.” Wake glowers down at him with a raised eyebrow, “You have nothing to be sorry about.” Brandon sighs, “I think I do. I… you are very intimidating.” Wake shakes his head, “I know. That’s why...” Ardine shakes her head, “Wake, I think you should accept his apology. It may not be his fault that you have intimidating features, but it’s not your fault either. Let him be responsible for the part that is his to own. You can consider it an olive branch if that will make you feel better.” She turns to Brandon, “While I applaud your apology, I think it would be more prudent to learn from this experience than lament it.” Wake looks at Brandon, “Then I accept your apology.” Brandon glances away from Wake a few times, “Thank you. And I… I...” He sighs, “I… I guess I should just...” Ardine steps forward, “Hug!” Wake and Brandon stare at her. “What?” Brandon asks. Ardine smiles, “What do you have to lose?” Asa walks over to Wake, “Do you mind?” Wake shakes his head and sneers, “Not at all.” Asa can’t reach Wake’s shoulders so he leans forward and wraps his arms around his waist. Wake’s arms almost completely surround Asa’s head and any fear of the man he might have had dissipates. Wake’s countenance might be fierce, but he has the gentlest touch Asa has ever felt. Asa turns to look at Brandon, “It’s your turn.” Brandon edges forward and cautiously wraps his arms around Asa and Wake. Ardine wraps her arms around them shortly afterwards. “How do you feel?” She asks. Wake sneers at her, “Thank you.” Ardine smiles, “Think nothing of it.” “Let’s go.” Asa says as he pulls himself out of the hug. He feels a bit guilty, but he can’t help but smile a little when he notices Wake slump as he leaves. He’ll have to have a more private talk with him later. As they enter the more public part of the lodge, Asa can’t help but notice people giving them a wider birth than usual, and he frowns. Wake seems to be unaffected. Asa surmises that he’s used to it, but that really just makes it worse. When they leave the lodge, they find the street almost entirely deserted. Asa turns to Ardine, “The street gets more and more empty all the time.” He shakes his head, “It’s not right. Even with the server count lowered, there still shouldn’t be this few people.” Ardine nods, “You’re right. There are probably a fairly large number of people holing up in their rooms. They are, after all, the one place that is completely safe, since no one can access it without your consent. Others are probably hanging out in groups indoors.” She thinks for a moment, “There must be a good number of people grinding as well. Being overpowered, after all, is another way to be safe. Mostly anyway.” Asa thinks for a moment, “I wonder if we’ll start to see more people around as time goes on? There are more than seven hundred people on the server still. While that’s not a huge number by MMO standards, it’s enough that there should be more people than this.” Ardine shakes her head, “It’s hard to say. I don’t think we can really know what people will do. Especially if we do more content and reach other segments of the world ring.” Asa nods in response and they continue to the square. The gatcha machine is next to the fountain facing the entrance to town. In fact, it’s the thing in town closest to the main entrance. The machine itself is strangely out of place. It’s a white square pole with an angled touch control panel mounted on top of it. Asa activates it and does a roll, “Oh, huh. I got a Feather Bow. Pretty good for this point in the game. I should give it to Ben. Someone has gotta be able to use it.” Brandon steps forward next, “I got… a knife.” Asa raises his eyebrow, “What kind of knife?” “Just a standard knife. Like, the weakest weapon in the game.” Brandon deadpans. “Oh.” Asa responds. “Well, we can’t expect to always get something great.” Ardine steps forward, “But a Mythril Sword is quite good.” Asa smiles, “You got a Mythril Sword?” Ardine nods, “Yes.” She then nudges Wake forward, “You miss every spin you don’t take.” Wake looks down at the gatcha machine as if it might hurt him, and Asa can’t tell if he’s actually irritated or if it’s just his facial expression again. “I got… a long sword.” He shrugs, “I suppose it could be worse.” Ardine looks at him, “Well, what weapon do you use?” “I was using a staff, but I could use a sword.” Wake responds. Ardine thinks for a moment, “You know, our group has a slight lightning sub theme. The flash step spells are in lightning. The tanking spells are also in lightning.” She turns to Asa, “You do have at least one rank in Bolt correct?” Asa nods, “I have Fireball and Icedarts too. I got enough universal to get Mend.” Ardine nods, “But you have more ranks in lightning?” Asa nods again, “That’s correct.” “And I can’t imagine a lightning tank build wouldn’t learn Chain Lightning, and probably Bolt as well.” Ardine continues. Wake raises an eyebrow at her, “What are you thinking?” Ardine turns to him, “That it might be good for you to use a Javelin. It’s a relatively safe weapon to use if you aren’t as good at hand to hand combat, both because you can throw it and because its length. Beyond this, if we get you a Javelin with high levels of Lightning Rod, you’re weapon will be more than just a placeholder. It will support not only your damage but the damage of the rest of the group as well.” Wake blinks and then sneers, “That sounds like a wonderful idea!” Brandon nods, “Yeah!” He turns to Ardine, “I have to thank you.” Ardine smiles at him, “You’re welcome, though I’m not quite sure what you are thanking me for.” Brandon looks down nervously, “You guys aren’t trying to build a team around yourselves. I mean, it might look like that. I guess I’m not making much sense am I?” Asa laughs a little, “I think I understand. It’s true, we’re keeping our general builds, but we aren’t trying to steal the spot light. We want to build a team where we all support each other. Part of that is making sure to take advantage of our skills. Ardine and I are quite skilled in our specialized areas. To not utilize those skills would be wasteful, but I know I’ll adjust my build to the needs of the group. And I’m sure Ardine will too.” Brandon nods, “That’s exactly it. You aren’t taking over the party. You even let me decide whether to be a healer or not. I’m glad.” Wake grimaces at Brandon, “I should thank you as well.” Brandon looks up at him and blinks, “What?” “Had you decided to become a healer, I’d still be alone in my room.” Wake glances at Asa, “Now instead, I’m out here with you guys.” Brandon smiles, “Ardine said she thinks we’re all lucky. I didn’t really get what she meant. Now, I think I do.” Ardine opens her arms, “Okay! This is definitely another group hug moment.” Brandon looks up at her in alarm, “But we’re in public!” Asa and Wake laugh. “You have nothing to worry about. No one who matters is going to judge you.” Asa says. Wake smirks, “And there’s no one around anyway.” Brandon moves towards Ardine who grabs him and pulls him into a hug. Asa shoves himself between them while Wake wraps his large frame around all of them. “I should invite Collin next time.” Ardine muses, “I get the feeling he loves this sort of thing.” The group separates. “What should we do now?” Brandon asks. Asa thinks for a moment, “Well, we do need to get some practice in. Maybe we should go out and fight some mobs?” Ardine nods, “I think that’s a good idea, but we shouldn’t just fight them. We should practice our teamwork in a safe environment. Eventually, we’ll tackle instances. Collin is definitely going to be relying on us to have a key position in a Temple run. It’s best if we are over prepared for that.” Wake nods, “I’d like to help anyway I can.” Asa nods, “That sounds like a good plan.” Brandon smiles, “So we go out and practice. And maybe even hit the crystal cave.” The A team nods. “So, I think we should venture just outside of town entrance. That way, if we run into any problems, we can easily retreat to safety.” Asa says. Ardine nods, “That is a very sound idea.” “Where should I be?” Wake asks. Ardine thinks for a moment, “That is a good question. I think we should speak of formation before we go out there. Brandon and I should clearly take point.” She turns to Asa, “I believe you should take the rear.” She turns to Wake, “You should try to keep one of us between you and the enemies as much as possible. What do you think?” Asa thinks for a moment, “Hmm… I agree Wake should be in the center, but I think Brandon should be closer to Wake. I don’t know if you’ve seen the lightning tank in action, but I have, and one of the greatest benefits it has is that its shields affect an area. If Wake stands next to Brandon, he’ll be far safer than if he’s standing anywhere else, and you can retreat to his position if you need it, or he can draw your aggro with his spells.” Ardine nods, “So you’re saying that Brandon should be in the middle of our formation?” Asa shakes his head, “I think you are imagining a wider formation than I am. Lightning magic tanking lets us keep a tighter formation, since the shields can protect us from AOEs.” “And what of Brandon running out of MP?” Ardine asks. “Once we build the shadow MP draining spells into his build, he should be able to manage himself so that he won’t. I’ve seen versions of the build that, with the proper management and timing, can remain active virtually indefinitely.” Asa says. Brandon thinks for a moment, “What if the enemies run out of MP?” Asa smiles, “I use MP sparingly and Ardine doesn’t use much either. Draining MP from us is an unideal, but workable strategy. Especially for an aspiring spiral master.” Ardine shakes her head, “I see now why you are a top player. It’s not just your skill with the menus.” Asa turns to her, “I’m surprised this strategy never occurred to you.” Ardine thinks for a moment, “I suppose it might have, but I never put a lot of thought into magic. My builds require very little and it’s never interested me personally.” Asa nods, “Ah. That makes sense.” “I’m going to buy some potions, just in case. Does anyone else need them?” Wake asks. Ardine shakes her head, “I have a large stock currently. Thank you though.” “I could, but I used all my spiritual energy respecing.” Brandon says. Asa sighs, “I could use some too, but I also used all my spiritual energy respecing Brandon.” Wake smirks, “Don’t worry about it. We’re a team aren’t we?” Asa smiles, “I could go with you?” Wake’s smirk widens into a sneer, “I’d like that.” As they walk off, Brandon turns to Ardine, “They’re getting along pretty well, aren’t they?” Ardine looks down at him, “Does that bother you?” Brandon sighs, “Not for the reason you’re thinking.” Ardine shakes her head, “Don’t assume you know what I’m thinking.” She watches them chat as they walk off, “It’s not wrong for you to feel envious of the attention.” “Isn’t it though?” Brandon asks. “You are looking to Asa for guidance and support. It’s only natural that you feel a bit irked when his attention moves elsewhere. Especially when said attention seems to affect him more deeply than you do.” Ardine meets Brandon’s gaze, “But I don’t think it is affecting him more deeply. I think he trusts his feelings for you and your feelings for him. His feelings for Wake, on the other hand, are new and exciting.” Brandon laughs a little, “So I should feel happy for him?” Ardine shakes his shoulder, “You should feel what you feel. I think you’ll end up happy for him in the end. But if you are jealous? It’s fine to let yourself feel that. Don’t bottle it up. It won’t go away, and it might even turn to resentment. That would be something worth feeling bad about.” Blissfully unaware of Ardine and Brandon’s conversation, Wake and Asa are having a conversation of their own. “So, I’m confused,” Wake says. “About what?” Asa asks. “Just… shouldn’t Tall&Zxy be in this guild?” Wake surmises. Asa sighs, “I don’t know anymore.” Wake shakes his head, “Are you sure you’re okay with that? From what I’ve heard, you two were inseparable.” “No, I’m not, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do about that. He’s gotta work through this on his own.” Asa takes a deep breath, “And I think I do too.” Wake raises an eyebrow at him, “Are you sure about that? It’d be a shame to let pride get between you.” Asa shakes his head, “I think pride was what kept us together. And it wasn’t all good. I realize that now.” “But if it bothers you. Maybe it bothers him too? You’ve both had some time to think about it. Maybe you should try talking to him one more time?” Wake suggests. “It’s… I guess.” Asa sighs again, “I don’t know what I want.” Wake growl sighs, “That’s another reason to talk to him. It might not end with him in the guild, but maybe you’ll find out where you stand. Isn’t that enough?” “I guess it is.” Asa looks up at Wake, “You’re pretty smart.” Wake grimaces, “Thank you.” Asa thinks for a moment, “I’m gonna go do that now. Before I chicken out.” “Do you need some support?” Wake asks. Asa shakes his head, “I think this is something I have to do alone.” Wake nods, “I’ll be with everyone else when you get back.” Wake watches Asa walk off and then starts walking back towards the square where Brandon and Ardine were waiting for him. He hopes they are still there. His feelings about today are mixed. On the one hand, he really likes Asa and Ardine. He isn’t sure about Brandon. He doesn’t like the fact that he seems to scare the kid, but he can tell Brandon is trying. And then there’s his own insecurities. But, he’s decided to give this guild a whirl. Despite the eeriness of the town being deserted, he actually finds it somewhat comforting. People are so often intimidated or scared by him that he usually prefers to be alone. Of course, the truth is he’d rather people not be scared of him, but he’s resigned to that. When he enters the square, Brandon and Ardine walk over to him. “Where’s Asa?” Brandon asks. “He’s going to talk to Tall&Zxy.” Wake says. Brandon looks at Ardine, “Is that okay?” Ardine shrugs, “Perhaps, perhaps not. I have a feeling Asa and Luke have been growing apart for a while now, but have been too attached to their old friendship to admit that. This situation has forced them to face that their relationship has changed. Whether it’s over or become something else, however, is anyone’s guess.” “I wonder if they even know?” Wake ponders. Ardine shrugs, “I doubt it, but we’ll see.” She turns towards the lodge, “We should go find a place to wait. I have a feeling we won’t be going out until tomorrow.” Brandon turns up to Wake, “So… you’re good with spells right?” Wake raises an eyebrow, “I’m okay. Did you want help?” Brandon nods, “Asa was helping me, but he’s not here so...” He looks down as he trails off. Wake smirks, “I’d be glad to help.” Brandon looks up at him, “Thank you.” “Before I forget.” Wake hands Brandon the potions he bought him. Brandon just smiles up at him in response. Meanwhile The first thing Asa notices when he sees Luke in the park is how tall he is. The strange thing is, he’s not actually that tall. He’s almost the same height as Ardine and Wake is more than half a head taller than him. But neither of them seem tall to him the way Luke does. “Hi.” Luke says, “I was a little surprised when you asked to meet me here.” Asa meets Luke’s gaze, “It isn’t like me is it?” Luke thinks for a moment, “It was like you when you were younger.” “I guess it was.” Asa shakes his head, “So… I met someone.” Luke raises an eyebrow, “Not the kid right?” Asa shakes his head, “No. Brandon’s a bit young for me. He’s more like a brother.” Asa shuts his eyes and takes a breath, before opening them and continuing, “His name is Wake. He’s a bit intimidating at first glance, but he’s turning out to be the most considerate person I’ve ever met.” Luke looks down, “You mean that scary guy you were with earlier?” Asa nods, “Yeah. I dunno if this is gonna go anywhere, but he’s the first person I know is gay who’s definitely interested. He’s the one who told me to talk to you.” Luke smiles, “Then I’ll have to thank him.” The silence between them is palpable. Neither one of them knows what to say to the other. It takes a moment, but Luke talks first, “I can’t join your guild.” Asa nods, “I know. Wake thought I should throw you an olive branch, or something like that, but I already knew you wouldn’t.” Luke frowns, “You should be more honest with him.” “What do you mean?” Asa asks. “You have a tendency to not volunteer information. You don’t think of it as lying, but it’s not really that different.” Luke answers. Asa looks down, “You always jump to conclusions.” He hesitates for a moment before looking at him again, “If you thought I was really in trouble, you’d blow a gasket.” The two of them stand there in silence for a moment, “You don’t need my protection.” Luke eventually says, “You haven’t for a while, but this situation really drove it home for me.” “I never needed it,” Asa says. “Not that I don’t appreciate what you did for me, but...” Luke nods, “I understand.” Asa thinks for a moment, “I think we have to go our separate ways. I hope we remain friends, but if we don’t, I don’t want any hard feelings. You’re always welcome in our guild. In fact, whenever you sort out your feelings, I implore you join a guild if not ours. You aren’t a loner Luke. It doesn’t suit you.” Luke smiles a little, “Maybe that’s why I want to try it, because I’ve never been self sufficient before. I always had someone, be it my brother, my parents or you. And it wasn’t just that they were around, I always knew where I stood. Now I don’t know where I stand with anybody.” Asa sighs, “Then this is goodbye?” Luke shakes his head, “We’ll still see each other around.” Asa nods, “I guess we will. This is gonna be strange.” “It is.” Luke’s face darkens, “I want you to take care of this Wake guy.” “What do you mean?” Asa asks. Luke’s gaze is adamant, “If you’re gonna be with him you’ve gotta protect him. That’s what the stronger person in a relationship does.” “I don’t know if I’m stronger than him though.” Asa says. Luke shakes his head, “I’m sure you are.” Asa Luke in the eyes, “Luke, you don’t need to protect everyone.” Luke looks at his feet, “What if I want to?” Asa shakes his head, “I don’t think that’s what you’ve ever wanted.” Luke looks at Asa, “I wish I knew what I wanted.” “Well, I don’t think you can find that while I’m around. You put so much focus on me you forget about yourself. Can I give you some advice?” Asa asks. Luke nods, “Of course.” Asa meets his gaze evenly, “Don’t look for another me. Don’t look for someone weaker than you to protect. Focus on yourself a bit for once.” Luke shakes his head, “But, I’m one of the best players here. I can’t just abandon everyone else.” Asa shakes his head, “You’d never do that. It’s just not you. You’ll always be a protector Luke, of that I have no doubt. But you can’t just be that. You have to find a reason to live that isn’t for someone else.” Luke looks at him, “You know Asa, you need to find that too. And I know you won’t find it alone, but… don’t let that be an excuse to not find it at all.” The two of them look at each other for a while longer. Asa eventually speaks, “We’ve needed to do this for a while haven’t we?” Luke nods, “I think so.” He looks down sheepishly, “Do you think we’ll ever be friends again?” Asa sighs, “Not the same way we were, but hopefully.” Luke nods silently in response. As Asa walks away, he thinks about what Collin was saying that first day, and he almost steels himself, but he realizes that’s not what Collin meant. He didn’t mean that they need to accept that this might be their new lives, or that they should be resigned to their situation. He was saying they need to embrace it. To become one with their new world. He turns back to Luke one more time, “Luke. Just remember one thing. This can still be a game. It may be this is our lives now. There’s no reason it can’t be fun.” Luke’s eyes widen slightly. A moment later, Asa turns away and walks out of the park. He smiles as he thinks of Wake. Why is he waiting? [ BunnyAce: Can we talk alone? ForTheThes: Where would you like to meet? ] Asa’s smile widens into a grin. [ BunnyAce: How about my room? ] He gets an invite to his room as a response, which he immediately accepts. Despite everything, Asa can’t help but have a skip to his step as he turns into the lodge. Meanwhile Wake frowns, “I don’t want to be rude, but your spiral menu is quite disorganized.” Brandon sighs, “Is it? Asa was helping me put it together, but we didn’t get a chance to finish it.” Wake raises an eyebrow, “He is a spiral master, but did he explain to you why he had it set up this way?” “He told me the menu layout isn’t about what it looks like, but what it feels like.” Brandon points towards his shield spells. “Like here, I generally want to have these active at the same time, so they are near each other. And they are my most important spells, so they are at the default position in my menu. He was also talking about counting ticks and how I should set the menu click at about fifty percent.” Wake looks at it, “What do you think? Does this make sense to you?” Brandon sighs, “I guess. I want to be a spiral master! So I want to understand this.” Wake sneers at him, “You don’t need to be a spiral master to use this build. It’s designed to work the way it does.” “I know, but Asa said he thinks I have potential for it. He thinks I could be a spiral master,” Brandon says. Wake sits down on the couch in Ardine’s room and pats the seat next to him, “Do you want to be a spiral master?” Brandon sits down, “I do! But it’s intimidating. What if I’m not good enough?” Wake shakes his head, “Don’t worry about that. Look at us. An hour ago you were terrified of me, now we’re working together.” Brandon looks up at him and nods. Wake continues, “The spiral menu isn’t your enemy, it’s your friend. It’s a tool meant to make the game easy and fun. I don’t think every spiral master is the same. I bet Asa would say the same thing. Spiral mastery isn’t about copying other spiral masters, it’s about finding your own love for the spiral menus. Finding your own way of mastering them.” Ardine sits down, “Well, it’s not quite that simple. There are certain things that set Spiral masters apart from other people. Menu distribution, for example.” Brandon looks at her, “What do you mean?” “I mean most people only populate their menu with any given option once. That gives them the most possible options available. Spiral masters, on the other hand, will often have the same thing in their menu in multiple places, because they activate them at different points during a fight. This is particularly true for spiral masters that have a rotation, like ice chainers, rather than a more versatile plan.” Ardine answers. Wake is about to respond when he notices a message, “I just got a message from Asa.” Brandon looks at him, “What’s it say?” Wake sneers, “Asa wants to talk to me. Alone.” Ardine smirks, “I think you should have a talk. Unless you aren’t interested?” Wake looks down, “I’m definitely interested.” Brandon pulls Wake to his feet, “Then go! We can always go grind tomorrow.” “We’re meeting in his room!” Wake announces. “I wish you luck.” Ardine says. Brandon nods, “Yeah. Good luck.” Wake’s sneer extends to a grimace, “Thank you!” Brandon watches as Wake leaves with a skip in his step, “He really is a big softy.” Ardine grins, “Still jealous of him?” Brandon laughs, “Yes, but for an entirely different reason. I wish I had a girl like that.” Ardine starts guffawing like a maniac, “Now that is a feeling to be proud of.” Brandon elbows her in response, then sighs, “He still scares me though.” Ardine puts a hand on Brandon’s shoulder, “We all know. It’s okay Brandon. I’m sure he’s used to it.” Brandon looks down, “That doesn’t make it right.” Ardine nods, “And it’s that attitude that makes it okay. Wake is a large scary looking man. That is a fact. As you get older, you’ll realize that there is much more to a person than how they look. You’ll stop having the knee jerk reaction you’re having now, but until then, just be glad that he doesn’t take offense. You’ll get to know him, and that feeling will probably go away.” Brandon sighs dejectedly, “Probably?” Ardine shakes his shoulder, “There are no promises in life. But you can be friends with a person who scares you. The important thing is that you trust him.” “How can I trust someone that I’m scared of?” Brandon asks. “Fear is a tricky thing. There are various shades of it. Some might call them entirely different feelings. Irrational fear tends to be the most problematic. For example, a person might be afraid of spiders, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they think they are going to hurt them. Some of them even like spiders, they just can’t stand looking at them.” Ardine grins, “I can tell you like Wake. If you are always afraid of him, then just be courageous.” Brandon looks down, clearly embarrassed, “But I’m afraid of a perfectly nice guy. How can that be courageous?” Ardine shakes her head, “You can’t have courage without fear. Courage is the act of and feelings that result from facing the things you fear. Let no one tell you otherwise.” Brandon ponders, “I… never thought of it that way.” Ardine nods, “I didn’t think so. Very few people of any age realize this simple truth.” “We’re all really courageous then aren’t we?” Brandon says. “Who do you mean?” Ardine asks. “Everyone here who is trying to make the best of the situation.” Brandon responds. Ardine smiles, “I agree. You should tell people that. Coming from me, it would sound pretentious or philosophical. Coming from you, however, it could seem profound.” Brandon laughs, “I guess that’s because you don’t seem afraid.” Ardine nods, “Yes.” Brandon shakes his head, “But you are afraid. Maybe more than everyone else.” Ardine nods again, “Yes. Collin is. Luke is. Asa is. I’m sure all the adults are.” Brandon grins, “Then we’ll just have to all be brave together.” Ardine ruffles Brandon’s hair in response, earning a, “Hey!” From him and then they both fall into a fit of laughter. Meanwhile Wake is feeling giddy as he enters the whiteness leading to Asa’s room. He finds Asa sitting on a chair in the kitchen area with a plate of french fries on his table. Wake can’t help but grin at him, and to his delight, Asa grins back. “What did you want to talk to me about?” He asks, instantly nervous. “I like you. Like, like like. I know we can’t have sex or anything, so maybe this is pointless, but I wanted to tell you anyway.” Wake can’t help but snicker. He’s only known him for a day and yet that confession is so him; so Asa. “I like you too,” Wake says. He sits down on the chair opposite him, “I don’t care that we can’t have sex. I just… don’t.” Asa laughs, “You know, if we weren’t trapped in this game I definitely wouldn’t have told you so fast. Even knowing you’re gay. Even knowing how great a guy you are. But, something about our situation compels me to tell you. To live the day.” He thinks for a moment, “And it’s not some grim dark motive like today might be our last. I guess I just realized. Why live any moment any way other than good?” Wake nods, “It makes me think we can. You saying it like that.” Asa laughs, “You’ve known me for a day.” “You seem to be the thinking type. A person who ponders and ponders over every little detail.” Wake raises his eyebrow, “Am I right?” Asa nods, “More or less.” “Then shouldn’t I trust your realization? You came to a conclusion. What better thing to trust is there than that?” Wake concludes. Asa laughs, “I can’t tell if that’s an underhanded compliment or one of the most eloquent barbs I’ve ever heard.” Wake shakes his head, “Maybe a little of both? I don’t want to offend you though.” Asa waves him off, “I know you’d never offend me on purpose. It’s one of the things I like about you.” Wake sighs, “I… I don’t want to be negative but… what about my looks?” Asa raises an eyebrow, “What about them?” Wake looks down, “I know my face is unpleasant to look at.” Asa smiles, “At first, I admit it was startling. And your expressions definitely took some getting used to. But there’s something attractive about it too. Something intriguing and mysterious. Or there was. Now I just see you. A man who I find quite attractive. Sure, he has a cartoonishly evil face and he’s overly worried about people having negative reactions to him. But he’s also patient, compassionate and caring.” Wake feels extremely embarrassed, “I don’t know what to say.” Asa stands up, “Isn’t it weird that we can’t blush?” Wake raises an eyebrow, “What?” Asa grab’s Wake’s arm and pulls him towards the porch, “I mean that exactly.” He turns to him, “I’m not gonna suddenly stop being me and become this perfect gentleman. In a way, I wish I could, but it just… you’re the gentleman here.” “I don’t want you to stop being you.” Wake says. Asa grins, “Maybe I want to be sure of that? Luke told me to tell you the truth, so I will. I knew Luke wasn’t going to join our guild. I needed to talk to him, that’s true, but I didn’t want to disappoint you, make you think I was being pessimistic by acting like I knew what was going to happen.” Wake nods, “This is hard for you, isn’t it?” Asa looks up at him, “It’s… easier than I thought. I was just, used to not volunteering information that might make waves. I’m sorry.” Wake grins, “You have nothing to be sorry for. I’m happy.” Asa thinks for a moment, “So, in case we ever get out of here and meet in the real world...” He looks down sheepishly, “...would you want to have sex with me?” This time Wake looks sheepish, “Yeah, but...” Asa looks up at him, “But…?” “You’re pretty small. And um… I’m pretty big.” Wake says. Asa raises an eyebrow, “I can’t imagine many guys are larger than you. And you’re gentle right?” Wake looks down, “I mean… I’m big… down there.” Asa thinks for a moment, “I take it you don’t just mean slightly above average.” Wake nods, “I… I used to get a lot of people hitting on me because they had this fantasy that I was gonna be super rough with them, cause I look mean. Other times people would act like they liked me in spite of my features just because they wanted to experience being with a large guy. I...” Asa reaches up and laces his fingers together behind Wake’s neck. Wake stops talking and lowers himself so Asa can hug him. “None of that matters now. And if we meet in the real world? You know I’m not a size queen after you for some kink.” He grins, “But it does make me curious. You see, I have always wondered what it would be like to be with someone well endowed, but I’d need to trust them to be gentle with me.” Wake smiles at the small man in front of him, “Always.” Asa then lets out a guffaw, “Look at us getting ahead of ourselves! We met less than a day ago and we’re discussing your giant dick! Could we get anymore stereotypical?” Wake frowns, “What do you mean?” Asa can’t stop himself from laughing, “I mean come on! How stereotypically gay is this? Meet, have sex, then maybe date if the sex works out.” Wake lets out a small smile, “I guess you’re right. But I wasn’t just going to have sex with you.” He thinks for a moment, “But I do want to date. And we can date here.” Asa nods, “I’d like that.” Wake looks down sheepishly, “And maybe, maybe we could remove all our equipment and sleep together.” Asa raises an eyebrow, “That surprises me.” Wake looks at him, “Why?” “You just seem a bit down on how you look.” Asa says. “But you like how I look. It’s not that I never want to get naked with someone, it’s just… I rarely find someone who is so casual about how I look.” Wake smiles, “It makes me want to try things while I have the chance.” Asa grins, “You have the chance. And you’ll keep having chances if I have anything to say about it.” Wake grins, “I like this side of you. The confident forward side. The one who is willing to speak his mind.” Asa looks down, “I do too. But, that side of me has gotten me into trouble more times than I’d like. So… can you just be that guy I can be like this with? And let me return to my flighty ways elsewhere?” Wake grins, “I’ll be whatever you need me to be.” “I only need you to be yourself.” Asa responds. Wake nods, “And that’s why.” Asa stands up, “I think we should go to the others. I don’t want to jump into anything too fast.” Wake laughs, “Things did escalate pretty fast.” Asa nods, “Not that I want to slow down, but maybe I’d like to get to know you a little better. I like what I’ve seen, but I’ve only known you for a day.” Wake nods in response, “I like what I’ve seen. And sure. Let’s do this right.” He thinks for a moment, “And I don’t mean proper. I mean… I want whatever this is to work out.” Asa shakes his head, “I get it. Man, is it that annoying when I’m overly meticulous?” Wake laughs, “I guess? I find it endearing.” Asa laughs, “So yes.” Wake turns towards the room, “I think you’re fine. Sometimes we need that kind of meticulousness. And sometimes we need someone who is just going to be blunt, without caring who’s feelings might be hurt in the process.” Asa sighs, “And you think that’s me?” Wake shrugs, “What I think about you isn’t that important.” “It’s what I think right?” Asa asks. Wake shakes his head, “Not really. It’s what you do that matters.” Asa laughs, “Well, one thing we have in common is spouting cliches.” Wake snickers, “I wasn’t going to say anything.” Once they enter the hallway they invite themselves into Ardine’s room. Wake turns to Asa, “Before we go in. I just… I… wanted to see what it would feel like… to kiss you.” “I must admit I am curious what a kiss in this virtual reality would feel like.” Asa responds. Wake frowns, “Oh… so you don’t want to kiss me?” Asa rolls his eyes, “No silly! But like I said, I’m not gonna stop being me. Can’t I be efficient and find out how a kiss feels and feel good kissing you at the same time?” Wake grins widely and leans down. Their lips meet and… it’s anti climactic. “That was…” Asa frowns, “Very little. It felt like lips touching lips… but that’s it.” Wake sighs in contentment, “Still, I’m glad I did it with you.” Asa smiles up at him, “I am too.” They look at the whiteness in front of them. “The others await.” Asa announces. Wake nods and they both walk through the entryway.
  11. Nightlit

    Little By Little

    He mostly did it to get it out of the way. Not so much to build trust, as to not have to worry about it. As for the rest? Interesting suppositions.
  12. Unfortunately, panic was inevitable as soon as they were trapped.
  13. Despite the bustle around them, Asa and Brandon make only cursory attempts at interaction. Ardine is more forthcoming, using her experience as a teacher to help Tracy keep some semblance of order, but even she’s more visibly worried than usual. Eventually, Brandon and Asa retreat to the bedroom so they can talk without freaking people out. There they watch as the server population drops. Three batches of around thirty people are killed in a rather short time. When Ardine checks on them, she isn’t surprised and shortly after that, they get a mass message from Collin moving the meeting up to the next day. They are all forlorn, but try not to show it when they return to help Tracy make the rounds between the three rooms the young people have been gathered in. The Next Morning After the majority of the young people have calmed down and left, the A team, along with Tracy, Ben and Theo, head off to Collin’s room for the meeting. People are milling about when they arrive, but it’s immediately clear that many echo their feelings. Even Collin isn’t smiling. He has set up his backyard as an amphitheater using a creative combination of chairs and couches, which the A team immediately appreciates as the inside of the apartment would be somewhat cramped. After people have gotten comfortable, Collin moves to the stage, “I called this meeting because yesterday’s events made something abundantly clear.” He looks around, “Most of us here are top players. Players who are at least known by the community, and many who take an active role in it.” He looks down, “Last night, Skydaculous, MasterAshley and JiantHippo led a group of people to raid the Temple. All we really know about that is that they went in in three separate groups, and all three of them wiped, or at least, the majority of the players died.” He shakes his head, “That shouldn’t have happened. Someone should have tried harder to ensure it didn’t happen.” He looks around, “I’m not going to point fingers. I don’t think this was anyone’s fault. Even Skydaculous, MasterAshley and JiantHippo aren’t really to blame.” “Why not?” Jerome asks. Collin turns to him, “Because they are victims of the situation just like the rest of us. A lot of us knew the kinds of people they were and could have stepped in, but we didn’t try hard enough. Many didn’t try at all. And once again, I’m not pointing fingers; the point of this meeting isn’t to decide who’s responsible for this tragedy. We should learn from it. Each of us needs to decide what they are going to do from this moment onward, but I don’t believe we have the luxury of acting purely on our own. Our decisions carry more weight than the average player’s. It’s time we acknowledge that.” “Why do we have to do that?” A younger guy speaks up. Collin turns to him, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” He grumbles, “But, we didn’t choose to be here!” Collin nods, “It’s true, and I can’t decide what you should do for you. As I said, each of us needs to decide what they are going to do.” Jacklyn stands up, “May I?” Collin nods, “Of course. This is an open forum. Don’t feel like you need to ask for my permission to speak.” Jacklyn turns to him, “What’s your name?” “Gabriel.” He says hesitantly. “Gabriel, you are one of the best healers around, right?” She asks. He nods, “Yeah. I guess.” “What made you pick that role? It’s generally not the most glorious place to be. A lot of the time a party healer grudgingly takes the role.” She says. “Because I like it.” He says, “It feels good to keep everyone else standing.” She nods, “Then you do want to help everyone here?” His eyes widen, “Of course!” “Then what’s the issue?” She asks. “I just…” He looks down. Jacklyn changes her tact, “Look kid. I didn’t sign on to be some community leader either, but sometimes you just gotta roll with the punches.” Gabriel doesn’t seem to have a response to that. Collin speaks sternly, “The first thing I want to say is, it was very brave of Gabriel to speak up, especially with an unpopular opinion. I don’t think we should denounce him, or anybody else, for doing so. But that conversation also brought up the main reason for this meeting: builds.” Jerome stands up, “Before we change the subject, I have something to say.” He walks over to Gabriel and puts a hand on his shoulder, “We should be community leaders, but we can’t be the ones to make all the decisions, and we can’t dismiss an opinion just because it’s unpopular. The power disparity here is real. There is a real risk of becoming a tyrannical meritocracy. We cannot allow that to happen. Everyone needs to have a voice, everyone needs to be part of any decision making processes. No one should be too afraid to say what Gabriel did. Nobody. It’s our responsibility as the most powerful people on the server to keep each other in check.” Ardine stands up, “Jerome brings up a crucial point. And I know we’ve already used force to cull a number of people, but that was then, this is now. Whether or not that was the best thing to do, we can’t unilaterally decide things for everyone. It will only end with chaos.” After a moment of silence, one of the younger girls present raises her hand, “I… I think we’re all on the same page.” She looks around, “I don’t think we all would have been before the raid fiasco, but… I think we all see what could happen if we let anyone get too much power. Tyranny? I think we’d all die from negligence and stupidity long before tyranny was an issue.” She looks down, “Everyone’s scared. But I think we’ve all realized that the biggest thing to be afraid of in the situation isn’t the game, it’s us.” After another moment of silence, Collin speaks, “Maybe that’s true. But we’re also our greatest hope. And I don’t mean specifically the people in this room, I mean everyone who is willing to put their personal issues aside and work together on whatever we decide to do. And there is one thing I am sure of: the more we stand around with nothing to do, the more likely things are to get worse. It’s probably the biggest reason we have to do the game content. It gives us something to focus on as a community, and hopefully, that will keep us from going down darker paths.” When no one responds, Collin continues, “So, if we’re going to play the game content we will need to do more organizing than we’d normally do if we were just playing for fun. We want to complete content with zero deaths. To do that, we are going to have to have amazing builds. And that’s the primary reason I invited you here in specific. Does anyone have any comments before I start?” Collin pauses. “We already have builds we are good with.” Tyrone says. Luke shakes his head, “That’s not gonna be good enough, right Collin?” Collin nods, “Can you elaborate?” Luke nods in response, “In order to pull this off, we’ve gotta master our builds.” When Luke doesn’t say anymore, Collin continues, “That’s true, but it’s more than that. We need more than builds, we need good teams. Especially those in the same guild need to plan their builds around how they support each other. So we need great, abusive builds that synergize into great teams.” A teenage girl speaks up, “So what are we going to do about Artisan skills?” Collin nods, “I’m glad you brought that up, but it’s not an easy topic to discuss.” The girl raises an eyebrow, “It seems pretty straightforward to me.” Collin sighs, “Mechanically, it’s just a matter of getting the ranks, but who is going to get them is a different story. It would be best if we had a few people who wholly specialized in Artisan skills. Not combat builds that use Artisan skills, but entirely non combat builds. But that would require someone to be willing to be completely incapable of fighting.” He looks around, “I’ve thought about this, and here is what’s difficult. While I think most people can learn to fight on our level, there is a skill disparity. There are some people who will never be as good at the game’s combat as other people. I don’t want to write anyone off, but that’s a fact. So, I was thinking, we should find some people who aren’t confident in their skills and have them go wholly item making builds. That way the rest of us can concentrate wholly on our combat builds and still have top notch gear.” Jerome nods, “That sounds like a plan.” Collin nods, “I want to be absolutely clear on something: These artisans won’t exist just to support us, it will be our job to support them just as much. They won’t be able to go out and gather the materials they need, and spiritual energy is much slower to gain via non combat means. It will be our jobs to get them the orbs they need for their builds, as well as the materials they need to utilize said builds. And, possibly more importantly, they’ll be intentionally using builds that leave them incredibly vulnerable. If they end up in any combat situation, it will be our job to protect them. I don’t foresee anyone wanting to PK them, after all, they will be getting us kick ass gear, but the rest of us would need to protect them from that too.” Jacklyn looks around, “How about a show of hands. Who is willing to be the lifeline of whoever agrees to do this?” Almost everyone in the room raises their hand. Collin smiles, “That’s good! Now, it might take some time before we find some good candidates, so in the mean time-” Ben raises his hand, “Um… the truth is… I really suck at this game. I love it, but I’ve never really gotten the hang of it. So… uh… I could do that.” Theo stands up, “I… also am… not so great at it. Maybe not as bad as Ben… but… oh… man. No, I can’t…” He takes a deep breath, “I’ll do it too.” Collin looks at them, “Are you sure?” Ben looks around, “Um… you will protect us right?” As he looks around the room, nearly everyone nods. “Then… yes. I… I… This is a way I can help.” Theo nods, “Yeah.” Collin grins, “Then please come up here.” Ben’s eyes widen, “What?” Collin smiles at him, “You two are about to be a central part of this community. It’s only fair that you have some say in how we create it.” He turns to the rest of the room, “Are there any objections?” On the contrary, Ben and Theo get loads of encouragement from the crowd. Gabriel even yells up at them, “You guys rock! You can bet we’ll do our part.” Rather than standing on the couch-stage, they sit on the cushions, but no one comments. Asa smiles. He’s glad that things are starting to look up. Collin pats Ben and Theo on the head, earning a bashful expression from Ben and a scowl from Theo, before continuing. “So, before I get into the nitty-gritty, how many of you want to explore the game content?” He’s not surprised when everyone raises their hands. “In that case, I want to discuss something that I’m guessing many of you have been ignoring, unless it happened to fit into your builds. Since we got them from a skill roulette, I’m just going to call them roulette skills. All of us got one, and though they don’t seem to have any balance between them, all the ones I’ve seen are quite powerful. Mine, for example, grants me a fifty percent damage boost to lightning elemental damage and damage from lightning type attacks.” He draws a javelin, “I’m working on getting lightning rod orbs for this javelin, and I’ve even started experimenting with shadow shifting, since when you shadow shift a spell it keeps its type. I’ve tested it, and it does let me keep my skill’s damage boost when dealing typeless damage.” He turns to the group, “While I’m not expecting everyone to drop their current build based solely on their roulette skill, it would definitely be good to work it into your build if you can.” Jacklyn smirks, “I knew a fifty percent damage boost was nothing to scoff at, but dayum! It works with shadow shift?” Collin nods, “Yeah. Did you get a similar skill?” Jacklyn nods, “Yeah. I got the same thing you did, just with ice.” Collin’s eyes widen, “Wait, did you say ice?” Jacklyn raises an eyebrow, “Yeah.” Collin grins at her, “And you’re a spiral master. How are you with spells?” Jacklyn grins, “Are you suggesting I switch over to a shadow shift, ice, spell chain build?” Collin nods emphatically, “I found a build that allows you to chain spells endlessly! But it requires so much precision and patterning that I think only a spiral master could do it.” Jacklyn laughs, “Wait, that can’t be as overpowered as it sounds.” Collin nods, “It’s probably the best boss killing damage output in ice, but you can’t do it with the more powerful spells and it’s probably not great for crowd clearing either.” Jacklyn thinks for a moment, “This sounds intriguing. Let’s give it a whirl.” Collin turns to everyone else, “Does anyone else have a stand out skill?” Luke stands up, “I got an invincibility. Five seconds on a ten minute cool down. But Asa may have gotten the most important skill for the situation.” Asa sighs in response. He supposes it’s important for people to know. “Oh?” Collin asks. Asa stands up, “Yeah. As long as I don’t have zero guts, I’ll survive a blow that would have killed me with a percentage of my maximum hit points equal to my guts.” The entire room goes silent and Asa gets nervous before Collin responds, “That has to have a cooldown.” Asa nods, “Twelve hours.” That raises a few eyebrows. A moment later Brandon speaks up, “I got something that I know is stupid, but I’m not sure what to do with it. It’s a skill that let’s me cast most spells instantly once every ten minutes.” The first girl who spoke stands up, “I got twenty seven additional orbs on my fate wheel.” Gabriel stands up, “So, my skill lets me transfer stuff between my bank and my inventory whenever I want to.” Collin puts a hand in the air, “Those are all great.” He turns to Asa, “But your skill is a game changer.” A guy scoffs, “It would be better on a tank.” Collin shakes his head, “No actually, it’s perfect for a build like his. It’s not usable often enough to be reliable defensively. What it really does is gives him some insurance. He can take some chances no one else can since he can make a mistake and survive. His flash step specialty plays into this too, since it allows him to easily escape.” Collin turns to Luke, “But Luke, I have to disagree. You and Asa got great skills, no doubt, and they both play into your existing builds, which is spectacular, but your skills are also more or less balanced.” He turns to Brandon, “Brandon’s skill, for example, is utterly broken. It’s not that powerful at first glance, but used properly, it can do things that were never intended to happen.” He turns to everyone else, “What other roulette skills do people have?” Jerome shakes his head, “Mine causes me to gain one guts every three seconds during combat and to not lose guts when outside of it.” Collin raises an eyebrow, “So, it gives you full guts automatically at least every five minutes. Is that part of why you made the build you did?” Jerome nods, “I used to use the stunlock PvP build. But I realized a stealth build was perfect for that skill.” Jerome sighs. Collin knows he’s trying to figure out a new build, but that’s a topic for another day. “Indeed it is.” Collin responds before looking over the group again, “Anyone else?” Tyrone speaks up, “I got the fire damage bonus skill. I’d used the demolitionist traps in the past, and I wanted to give trap webs a whirl.” Collin nods, “A trap web with a fifty percent power boost sounds quite strong.” Ben hesitantly raises his hand, “Um… I…” “What’s up?” Collin encourages. “I just… what’s a trap web?” Ben looks down. Collin smiles, “Hey! Don’t feel bad. We were all there at one point or another. You know how fire magic has trap spells?” Ben nods, “Well, if you go far enough up the skill tree, you start to be able to make skills that let you connect your traps together. When one of those traps is triggered, all of them go off.” Ben’s eye widen, “Wow! That sounds really good!” Collin nods, “It can be, which is probably why each caster can only have one trap web at a time. But it’s not a popular PvE build because it tends to be overkill on mobs and is really hard to use against bosses.” Ben looks down, “See, I also got the same fifty percent bonus to fire damage skill. And I was thinking, that might be something I could do. You know, so I’m useful for something other than being an artisan.” Collin puts a hand on Ben’s shoulder, “You don’t have to worry about that. A pure artisan build is going to be one of the most important things we have. In a way, you’ll be the most powerful people in the game. Every kill that anyone gets with a weapon of yours is also your kill.” Ben looks up at him, “Really?” Collin nods, “If you want to go the fire trap route, that’s great. But if you do, we should find someone else to be our artisan. The artisans shouldn’t be out fighting. Even with a few combat skills, they’ll be way too vulnerable to get mats needed for items at their skill level.” Ben looks around, “You guys won’t tease me for being weak?” Luke stands up, “No one is going to tease you. We won’t allow it.” Asa sighs. Luke means well, but his tone is making Ben’s eyes widen in fear. Asa steps forward, “I know it seems like everyone teases everyone at your age, and high school and college movies probably make you think that’ll continue, but that isn’t true. Older high school students usually lose interest and it rarely happens in college.” Collin grins, “And you’re gonna be everyone’s life line. Anyone who teases you is a fool.” Theo moves over and puts his arm over Ben’s shoulder, “I’ll be right there, so chin up. We’re gonna be so good they’ll be begging us not to tease them.” Collin waits a moment for Ben to calm down before turning to the rest of the group, “I’m going to spend the next few days working in depth on builds with people. I’m going to prioritize the other players first, though I will discuss anyone’s build if they need help. While we’ll need build synergy in larger groups for things like Temple raids, we still need the drops and rewards from the other content. Grinding in particular will be much faster if we split our resources. I’d suggest finding a permanent party and forming a guild. That way you can gain the guild benefits and build around each other’s skills. If you need any help finding members, I’ll see what I can do.” He thinks for a moment, “One more thing. The top players shouldn’t team up with just each other. If you’ve already formed a guild, that’s great of course, but consider inviting some less experienced players into it. That way you can help them improve. If we’re going to survive this, we’ll need everyone to be as good as they can be.” Collin looks towards the deck, “I’m glad you guys decided to come.” Everyone looks over to see a teenager and a young man coming down from the deck into the yard. “This is Kwame and Ricky. They tailed the raids into the Temple last night.” He motions them up to the couch stage. Kwame plops himself down next to Ben and Theo while Ricky stands with Collin. “The outer sanctum of the Temple hasn’t changed at all.” Ricky says, “But the inner sanctum has totally different enemies in it. They don’t seem to be more powerful than the elite goblins, but they have entirely different stats and attack patterns.” Collin nods, “Did you see the boss?” Ricky nods, “Like the enemies, it’s entirely different. It looks like a much more brutal fight. The boss is a giant shelled beast that runs around the room ramming people. It’s highly resistant to physical and magical damage, though it looks like it can probably be blindsided, as there’s an opening in the back of it’s shell.” Kwame interrupts, “Except, only fucking BunnyAce could ever pull it off. The thing charges around like a nutcase! And once he had all the aggro, it would smash him for sure.” A man shakes his head, “That sounds immensely more difficult than the Goblin King.” Collin thinks for a moment, “I wonder how true that is?” Ricky shakes his head, “It brutalized three parties that probably could have taken the Goblin King.” Collin nods, “Perhaps, but we have to remember that they went in expecting the Goblin King, and everyone knows how to defeat it at this point. That wasn’t always the case. The first few Temple raids on the Goblin King in earlier versions of the game were much harder. The boss may not be as hard as it looks.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Dude, I didn’t just watch them fight it, I encountered it myself during the event, and it made mincemeat out of me.” He scoffs, “I tried to tell those assholes it was different, but they wouldn’t let me get a word in!” Collin nods, “I don’t mean to discount your experience, but we have to consider our situation. We went to a special event which had six hours of boosted energy gains. We also weren’t expecting to be able to keep playing. How many of you actually did instances?” Only a few people raised their hands, “That’s what I thought. Most of the people I know spent their time messing around with their senses and grinding orbs towards the builds they wanted. Not only do we lack the quest rewards and drops from the other dungeons, but most of our builds are lopsided, so it’s very possible that the boss is actually relatively balanced for the expected power level of groups ready for a Temple run.” Kwame thinks for a moment, “Hmm… yeah. I see what you mean.” Luke steps forward, “It was foolish.” “What was foolish?” Gabriel asks. “Raiding the Temple.” Luke responds. Ardine thinks for a moment, “We noticed the server population drop three distinct times last night. I assume that means there were three attempts on the boss, correct?” Ricky nods, “Yep.” Ardine raises an eyebrow, “How did that happen? I’d think, given the situation, they’d want a united front.” “We don’t actually know the details, but I do know JiantHippo and Skydaculous got into an argument.” Ricky answers. Collin shakes his head, “We can’t afford that. We have to work together.” Ardine shakes her head, “I don’t think we have to worry about that.” Collin turns to her, “Why not?” “Because tensions were high and people weren’t thinking straight. Furthermore, I believe most of the players that might be problems were the same players that took part in that foolish endeavor.” Ardine answers. “I’d still rather be safe than sorry.” Collin responds. Ardine nods, “I agree. But I don’t think we should beat the topic into the ground either.” Collin sighs, “I’m sorry. I’m trying too hard to be a leader aren’t I?” Ardine shrugs, “We do need leaders. As you said, the other player’s look to us for guidance, but that doesn’t mean we are suited to lead. We simply happen to be the players who developed the most skill.” Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Dude, you’ve been leading, like, the whole time.” Collin looks at him, “What do you mean?” Kwame grins, “Like, when everyone was freaking out and shit, you stood up and said we gotta be chill.” Collin looks down at his feet, “I wasn’t leading. I was in denial. I...” He takes a deep breath, “I wanted to live out this heroic fantasy.” Kwame stands up, “So do it.” Collin raises an eyebrow at him, “But, this is serious.” Kwame levels a face at him, “Name one fucking heroic story that isn’t fucking serious?” The room goes quiet at that, “You see? Real heroes get fucked in the ass with cacti and still fucking win the day! If you have ideals, be a hero and fight for them!” Collin sighs once again, “But… I only felt that way because I was in denial.” Kwame shrugs, “So what? Just because you were in denial doesn’t mean you were wrong!” He turns to the rest of the group, “A bunch of people fucking DIED yesterday because they took this super seriously! If they’d had a bit of levity? They’d probably still be here.” Ardine grins at him, “I have to say I agree with him.” Before anyone can speak up, she scrutinizes him, “I don’t know you. What’s your name again?” Kwame smiles, “I’m Kwame.” Ardine smirks. “Well then, Kwame. Since Collin is unwilling to lead us, care to take a stab at it?” Kwame bursts our laughing, “Are you kidding? I’m the last person you want leading us!” Ardine’s smirk widens to a grin, “All the better. You leading us astray would be the perfect incentive for Collin, or anyone else for that matter, to take your place.” Kwame grins, “I see how it is! Set me up to fail!” Ardine laughs, “I’m fine with failing to lead myself. You were just doing such a good job drawing the attention of the crowd, that I thought, who am I to stop you?” Collin shakes his head, “Alright alright! I get it.” He smiles, “Maybe I am cut out for this.” He turns to everyone, “But I can’t do this alone. I need all of you to help me.” Nods of support follow Collin’s gaze around the room. “So, I know Asa, Ardine and Brandon created a guild. They did it at the same time Tracy, Lloyd and I did. But I don’t know if anyone else here did, either during the event or the time since then.” Collin says. “I’d like to say that I think forming a guild with your friends is a good idea. I’m not saying that to justify what I’ve done. You and your friends likely know each other well. Chances are you’ve played together too and know your strategies and skill levels. Selecting ideal builds and learning how to execute them together will also probably be faster and smoother if you know and trust each other. That said, I also think you should expand your team beyond your friends as well.” He smiles, “The Indecisive Ones currently only has three members, but I personally think that an ideal group has four to six, so I’m going to reach out to other players. I suggest anyone who wants to make a guild of their own does the same. In my guild’s case, I don’t know what role we’ll be missing since Lloyd and Tracy have agreed to redo their builds, but most of you will know what you need once you know who’s on your team. Tapping the rest of the player base for this is ideal.” His expression grows serious, “The last thing we need is for a social gap to appear matching the skill gap. The other players need to know that they can trust us. That we’re there for them. And that doesn’t just mean in a protective capacity. If they have any questions, we should answer them, even if they seem stupid or obvious. We shouldn’t belittle people in general, but certainly not for their ignorance.” Gabriel sighs, “That’s a lot of responsibility.” Collin nods, “It is, but I think we can see the benefits of this right now.” He looks down at Ben, “Ben, would you have come to us for help on your own?” Ben shakes his head, “Maybe… no… I don’t think so.” Theo puts a supportive hand on Ben’s shoulder, “We wouldn’t have.” He takes a deep breath, “I wouldn’t have let him.” Collin smiles at them, “And now?” Theo looks down, “Now I think that was pretty foolish.” Collin shakes his head, “I think you aren’t giving yourself enough credit. You’re thirteen right?” Theo nods. Collin looks around the room, “How many of us were going to the adults around us at thirteen?” After a little murmuring, one or two hands go up. Collin puts a hand on Theo’s shoulder, “You were just doing what thirteen year olds do. I’m not going to fault you for that.” He sits next to Theo and puts a brotherly arm around him, “We’re not going to fault anyone. Like it or not, we’re a community now. We need to support each other.” Gabriel walks over to him, “Um… I know you said we should tap other players… But none of my friends came here with me. I… can I join your guild?” Collin turns to everyone, “I have to check and see what everyone else thinks.” Gabriel looks down, “Oh...” Theo rolls his eyes, “It’s not personal. He just doesn’t want to give you special treatment.” Gabriel looks at him, “You think?” Collin sighs, “That’s exactly it. I’d love to have you on my team. Neither Lloyd nor Tracy is as good a healer as you are, but if a bunch of people here want to join our guild, I have to figure out a fair way to decide who I actually take. Especially if I’m going to be in a leadership role.” “Take the kid Col.” Jacklyn says, then she grins at him, “None of us are gonna fault you for it.” Collin shakes his head with an amused smiles in response. “What about soloing?” Jerome asks. Collin blinks, “Soloing?” Jerome nods, “Yeah. What about soloing?” Collin shakes his head, “I don’t want to tell anyone what to do, but isn’t that a bit shortsighted?” Jerome shakes his head, “Some people work better alone.” Jacklyn glares at him, “That’s a crock of bull shit Jerome.” Luke speaks up, “I don’t know whether I’m gonna join a guild, but I haven’t yet.” Jerome nods, “See?” Luke shakes his head, “I’m not going solo. I’ll do what I can on my own, but I’ll be a free agent, at least until I find a guild I want to join. My build is a hybrid tank DPS build, so I’ll be useful to any party. I’ll help whoever needs it.” Jacklyn smiles, “You know? That sounds good to me. I’ll do that too.” Collin looks at her, “Are you sure?” Jacklyn nods, “That ice build probably generates loads of aggro, but that doesn’t matter if I’m by myself. And before you say anything, I can take the frost armor and regeneration spells and also be a hybrid tank DPS.” Collin shakes his head, “But the build is really specialized.” Jacklyn smiles, “You like your min maxy builds, but a 50% damage boost is a lot. Even without weakness, I can lose a bit of innate spell power to get some longevity, and use the roulette skill to even my DPS out with other people rather than skyrocket it, especially since shadow shift lets me focus only on the spells I need.” She puts a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “Besides, someone has to be responsible for grinding stuff for these two. I actually like grinding.” Collin blinks, “I suppose that’s true.” He thinks for a moment, “I guess I’m going to have to rethink a lot. If we want to keep everyone alive, people are going to need more versatile builds.” He shakes his head, “But that’s something for later.” He looks around, “Anyone else want to go freelance?” Jerome grunts, “I guess.” He looks at Jacklyn, “Or I could help Jacklyn grind.” A few other people answer with affirmatives. Asa turns to Luke, “I’m glad.” Luke looks down at him, “What?” “That you decided not to go solo.” Asa says. Luke shakes his head, “We don’t need solo players right now.” He walks off before Asa can respond. “He’ll come around.” Brandon says. Asa sighs, “I hope so.” Brandon slings a half hug over Asa’s shoulders, “You’re his best friend. That’s not something you just forget.” Asa sighs, “Brandon… I’ve got something I need to tell you.” He looks around, “But after.” He steps out of Brandon’s embrace. Brandon frowns. “It’s not you.” Ardine says. Brandon looks at her, “What?” Ardine nods, “Whatever it is, it’s not you.” Brandon looks down, “We were getting along.” Ardine looks Brandon in the eyes, “That’s how I know it’s not you. He really likes you Brandon, that’s why he’s worried.” Brandon looks at her, “What’s he worried about?” “Rejection, I think.” Ardine says. “Why would he be worried about that?” Brandon asks. Ardine shakes her head, “I’d rather not speculate, there are too many possibilities. Just be aware that he’s more vulnerable than he appears.” Brandon nods, “I know. I just wish he trusted me.” Ardine sighs, “I don’t think it’s a matter of trust.” “What do you mean?” Brandon asks. Ardine meets Brandon’s gaze, “There are some things you cannot predict the response to, regardless of how much you might trust someone.” As Ardine and Brandon talk, other people start milling about. A few moments later, Ricky turns to Collin, “Collin, we should end the meeting.” Collin crooks his head to the side, “You think?” Ricky nods, “There isn’t much more we can discuss as a group, and some people are getting bored.” He motions around the yard, “See?” Collin nods, “Yeah.” Collin claps his hands to get everyone’s attention, “So, I think the meeting is over, but I wanted to reiterate that I’m going to be doing whatever I can to help people create the best teams they can, and if you need any help, you can always ask me.” People acquiesce in various ways before starting to mill their way towards the exit. Asa walks over to Collin, “Um, can we speak in private?” Collin nods, “Sure, but I don’t know where we can go.” “We can go to my room.” Asa says. Collin nods and turns to the others sitting on the stage, “I’ll be back in a moment.” Ricky nods, “I’ll be here.” Asa walks to the guest room and goes into his room. He then invites Collin. A few minutes later, Collin walks into the room, “That was interesting.” Collin says. “What?” Asa asks. “If you are in your own room when you are invited into a different one, it seems you’ll enter the hallway through the guest room. I watched people exit the meeting through the door I just used to come in here.” Collin answers. “What did you want to talk to me about?” Asa sighs, “You seem pretty open minded.” Collin raises an eyebrow at him, “I like to think so.” Asa looks down, “I’m just wondering about something.” Collin sighs, “Do you want to talk about it?” Asa nods, “I do… but I’m...” Collin looks him in the eyes, “You can trust me.” Asa shuts his eyes and thinks for a moment, then nods, “I’m gay.” Collin smiles, “I understand, but you don’t have anything to worry about from me. I’m bisexual myself.” “Really?” Asa asks. Collin nods, “Really.” Asa think for a moment, “So, what do you think?” “If you are asking me what I think you are, I think we should both come out. Like I said, other players look up to us. With a thousand people, there have to be other people outside the gender binary.” Collin smiles at Asa, “I’m glad you brought this up. It didn’t occur to me, but I think it’ll nip some potential problems in the bud if we’re open about it now.” “Oh.” Asa sighs. “You were going to ask me about telling your guildmates weren’t you?” Collin asks. Asa nods, “Yeah.” Collin shrugs, “I wouldn’t worry about that. I doubt Ardine cares and I think Brandon looks up to you enough that he’d be more likely to rethink any negative attitudes rather than reject you. And in any case, if it’s going to be a problem, it’s better to find out now.” Asa chuckles, “I guess you’re right.” Collin starts tapping his menu. “What are you doing?” Asa asks. “You’ll find out in a moment.” He responds. Invites pop up for Brandon and Ardine which Asa accepts. “Thank you.” Asa says. Collin grins, “Thank you for trusting me.” He then turns and waves as he exits the room. Brandon and Ardine enter a moment later, “So, I take it your conversation went well?” Ardine asks. Asa blinks, “How did you know?” Ardine smiles, “You walked off and then Collin invited us to your room. It wasn’t that hard to figure out.” Brandon looks at him, “What’s going on?” Asa sighs, “I’m gay.” Brandon looks at Ardine and then smiles, “Oh. I guess I can see why you’d be afraid to tell me, but it really doesn’t bother me. I’m straight though, mostly.” Ardine grins at him, “Mostly?” Brandon shrugs, “I’ve had gay friends. I’ve experimented a bit.” He turns to Asa, “I was never really attracted to any of them, but sex is still sex.” Asa turns to Ardine, “And you?” Ardine shrugs, “I have no problem. That anyone does in this day and age is a mystery to me. Worrying about what other people do behind closed doors seems so pointless.” Asa smiles, “Thank you.” Ardine thinks for a moment, “You know though, I just had an interesting thought.” She turns to Brandon, “Brandon, have you had a single erection since you got here?” Brandon’s eyes widen, “What? Why!?” Ardine rolls her eyes, “Humor me, will you?” Brandon thinks for a moment, “You know… I don’t think so.” “I am not a man, so correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know it is extremely atypical for a fifteen year old boy to go a few hours without one let alone a few days.” Ardine muses. Asa thinks for a moment, “Any teenager really, but I don’t think I’ve had one recently either.” His eyes widen, “In fact, I don’t think I’ve been aroused at all.” Ardine nods, “Me neither.” Brandon shrugs, “Well, this isn’t an adult game, maybe arousal isn’t implemented?” Ardine thinks for a moment, “That’s quite plausible, and the tubes were directly interfaced with our brains; still, it is a bit disconcerting. It means that the system rather than our biological functions is ultimately controlling our feelings.” “What do you mean?” Brandon asks. “You, or I should say people your age, are the best example of this. You having erections as often as you do is a matter of biology. Correct me if I’m wrong, but your erections are common and occur often when you aren’t in any state of arousal at all?” Ardine waits for a response. Asa can tell Brandon isn’t totally comfortable answering that question so he steps in, “That’s right.” “In that case, both of you should have had multiple erections over the course of the last few days entirely incidentally. The fact that you are unaware of that means that either the system’s control of your senses is enough to render you unaware of your own physiological state or it has the ability to affect said state to the point that it’s preventing physical arousal. Either case is disturbing.” She shakes her head, “But, the fact that I have also felt no arousal for the last few days does lend credence to either theory.” Brandon sighs, “But… there’s nothing we can do about that is there?” Ardine nods, “You’re right. I didn’t mean to scare you.” “It is a bit disconcerting, but I agree with Brandon, there’s no point in worrying about it.” Asa responds, “I do intend to be open about my sexuality though, even if it doesn’t seem to matter here. I just wanted you guys to know.” Brandon grins, “I got your back.” Ardine nods, “You can count on my support as well.” Asa smiles, “Thanks!” Ardine pulls a couch out of her inventory and sits on it, “So, while we’re here, I think it would be a good idea for us to go over our builds.” Brandon nods, “Sure.” Asa nods as well, “That sounds good.” He thinks for a moment, “What is your roulette skill anyway?” Ardine shrugs, “It’s rather boring actually. A fifteen percent boost to all my stats.” “Isn’t that really good?” Brandon asks. Ardine nods, “It’s quite good. It’s just not particularly interesting either.” She shrugs again, “At least I don’t have to worry about not including it in my build.” Brandon looks down, “Yeah… I don’t know what to do with mine.” Ardine looks at him, “Well, was there any particular build you preferred before?” Brandon shakes his head, “Not really.” “Okay, so your build right now is just a bunch of random magic right?” Asa asks. Brandon nods, “Yeah. I wanted to use the skill I rolled.” Ardine nods, “Well, why don’t we think about what we have? My build is primarily DPS, but I have enough HP and generate enough aggro that I can tank to a limited degree.” “You’re using the ax skills that increase your damage when you have lower hit points aren’t you?” Asa asks. Ardine nods, “Yes. I am also using the ax skills that shoot shockwaves for additional DPS and crowd control.” “You built for soloing?” Asa asks. “To an extent. I was more going for self reliance than soloing, though the build is fairly effective at that as well.” Ardine responds. “I suspect I already know what your build is Asa, but I’ll ask regardless.” Asa nods, “Yeah. I started working towards the same build I used before. Combining flash steps and the knife and stealth blindside skills.” “Ah, and since that’s your only major source of damage, it leaves more of your build open for other things.” Ardine responds. Asa nods again, “Yes, I can off buff and off heal. I have some glyph spells and some of the earlier universal heals. I have basic spells. More ranks in thunderbolt but I have some ranks in fireball and ice darts too.” Ardine thinks for a moment, “So, we have plenty of DPS, with off tanking and off support. That would mean that we lack a dedicated tank and a dedicated healer.” Asa shakes his head, “It’s not a good idea to try and combine those roles.” “That’s true. Which means we probably need another member. But first, we should figure out what Brandon is going to do.” Ardine turns to him, “So, have you ever healed or tanked before?” Brandon shakes his head, “Not really. I’ve had healing spells, but I’ve never been a dedicated healer.” Ardine nods, “With your skill, a spell build would be ideal, but complicated spellcasting can be a lot to keep track of.” Brandon smiles, “That’s something I’m good at. I’ve always been good at guts and MP management. I dunno, I guess I’m just good a multitasking.” “Wouldn’t the lightning tank build be ideal for him then?” Asa asks. Ardine thinks for a moment, “Hmm… it is an upkeep heavy build. Keeping track of your MP is quite important there.” Asa nods, “So what do you say?” “I guess.” Brandon shuts his eyes, “Okay! I’ll do it!” Ardine smiles, “Excellent! So, how much of your fate wheel is free a the moment?” “Most of it.” Brandon responds. “Then we don’t have to free it up. You’ll gain the orb levels you need to unlock your skills while we grind up your lightning skills.” Ardine says. “You know, I actually have some soul energy saved up. I didn’t get a chance to spend it. I was going to use it on my build, but maybe we should give it to Brandon?” Asa suggests. Ardine nods, “Hmm, I have some as well. And it would allow us to teach him how to use the build while we grind.” Asa thinks, “So, the most important spells for the build are the aggro transfer spells right?” Ardine thinks too, “I’m not sure. The damage reduction spells are also pretty important.” “Well, which are going to be easier to start with?” Brandon asks. Asa and Ardine look at him, “Hmm… I think that the barrier spells are a bit easier to use.” Asa says. He turns to Ardine, “Don’t you think?” Ardine thinks for a moment, and then nods, “Probably.” Brandon looks at them, “So, I should get the reflects damage spell first?” “If you can, yes. Since it’s the barrier that affects all kinds of damage and also generates aggro.” Asa says, “Here, I’ve got about nine hundred soul energy.” Brandon’s eyes widen, “Nine hundred? That’s a huge amount.” Asa shrugs, “After I got my build I didn’t feel like wasting time with my menu. At the time, I thought I had a limited time to enjoy myself.” “I have a little over three hundred, not as much, but twelve hundred soul energy should be enough to give you a good dip into the build, especially if you have some lightning ranks already.” Ardine gives him the soul energy. Brandon nods, “So… I can get kinetic redirection field, and two other spells. Or should I put all the ranks into kinetic redirection field?” Asa shakes his head, “I’d put one rank into kinetic redirection field, one rank into shield tower and one rank into channel aggression. With those you should be able to tank really well in melee, and you’ll still be viable against spells and ranged attacks, since kinetic redirection field affects all kinds of damage.” “Kinetic redirection field only deals damage in melee right?” Brandon asks. “Strictly speaking, it deals damage to the enemies struck by the sparks it produces.” Ardine says. Brandon thinks for a moment, “So it reduces damage by half and takes that and distributes it to sparks and then releases those sparks in the direction the attack came from?” “The direction the initiator of the attack comes from. So, if you enter a blizzard in progress, each hit will produce sparks directed towards the current position of the caster.” Asa says. “So, if I could keep someone next to me between me and the caster I could deal half the damage the spell would have done to me to them?” Brandon ponders. Asa nods, “Yes, but I wouldn’t worry about that though. You are at best an off DPS build, and our guild has plenty of DPS, so if you have an off build, off healing would be better.” Brandon looks down dejectedly, “Oh.” Ardine shakes her head, “Don’t look like that. Healer is a very important job. DPS comes in many forms, and anyone can do it. Even a fully healing spec’d character has access to basic attacks. But healing is something every party needs. We are still going to search for a dedicated healer, but we wanted to figure out what you were going to do first. Since, if you were to be a healer, we’d be searching for a dedicated tank instead.” Brandon looks at her, “Should I heal?” Asa shakes his head, “Tanking is actually harder than healing, particularly the mage tank build. If you are as good at MP management as you say, then you are an ideal tank.” Brandon smiles, “Really?” Ardine nods, “Come now Brandon, do you really think we’d lie to you? We’re putting our safety in your hands after all.” Brandon looks down again, “Yeah… I… I’m afraid. What if I screw up?” Ardine shakes her head, “Then you screw up. It’s not a matter of if you make a mistake, it’s a matter of when. We aren’t going to just jump into the deep end, we’re going to be smart about this. We are going to go find our healer. We are then going to plan our our builds more specifically. Then we are going to practice on mobs that are non threatening. Eventually we’ll move on to an instance, but we’ll do an instance that is at your skill level. One where Asa and I can take over everything by ourselves if need be. Eventually, you won’t need that safety net. Until then, that’s what guildmates are for.” Brandon sighs, “I wish I could just help you.” Asa lifts Brandon’s chin and looks into his eyes, “You are helping us. Don’t ever feel shame because we have more skill or experience than you. There was a time when both of us were in your shoes. We were all new to the game once.” Brandon smiles, “You keep telling me that.” Ardine grins back, “And we’ll keep on telling you until you get it into your head that it’s true.” Brandon hugs Ardine, “You know… I can’t cry.” Ardine hugs him back, “I know. I noticed that too.” Asa slips in between them, “I can’t exactly hug both of you.” Brandon let’s out a laugh, “Feeling left out?” Asa wraps his arms around Brandon and Ardine’s hips and grins up at them, “Just doing my part.” Brandon’s smile fades, “I miss my family.” Asa sighs, “I know what you mean.” Ardine sighs as well, “I think everyone does.” She separates from them, “I want our guild to be more than just a group of people who fight together. I want our guild to be a place where we can go for support. A group of people who care about each other.” “You mean, to be a family?” Asa asks. Ardine nods, “Yes. To be a family.” Brandon smiles, “I followed the right guy.” Ardine laughs, “I believe we’ve all lucked out here.” Brandon laughs, “I’m never going to convince you that I’m the lucky one am I?” Asa shakes his head, “I think you’re lucky. But, like Ardine said, we’re lucky too. You’re a good guy.” Then he snickers, “And you’ve got a totally broken roulette skill.” Ardine laughs, “Amen to that!” “Thank you.” Brandon says. “You’re welcome.” Ardine responds. Asa lets go of Brandon, “So, that means we need to find a healer.” He turns to Ardine, “Do you know anyone?” Ardine shakes her head, “Unfortunately, I know no one who is a healer. Aside of Gabriel anyway, but he probably already joined Collin’s guild.” Brandon thinks for a moment, “Collin knows a lot of players right?” Ardine nods, “He does.” “And he does want people to join guilds.” Asa adds. Ardine smiles, “Then we have a plan. We’ll go speak with Collin about a healer.” Asa thinks for a moment, “Do you think you could do that? I wanted to check out the gatcha and then help Brandon practice his spellcasting. That way when you get back with our healer, we can go out and practice as a group. I can’t turn him into a spiral master overnight, but being good with the spiral menu will make his build much easier to use.” Ardine nods, “That sounds good. I do want you two to come with me when we meet our new member though.” Asa and Brandon nod. “Sure.” Asa says while Brandon says, “Yeah.”
  14. Asa leaves Ardine’s room shortly after seeing himself in the mirror. He tells Collin, Lloyd and Tracy that he wants to be alone, but pulls Brandon along with him. They spend the rest of the night wandering town keeping each other company. At first, when the sun comes up, Asa feels a little better, but that quickly leaves him as he and Brandon notice that tensions are running high. After witnessing a few yelling matches, Brandon asks Asa if they can go somewhere else, so they end up in Asa’s room. That Evening The quiet calm of the day is interrupted by Asa getting a message from Luke. [ Tall&Zxy: Don’t leave town. Don’t let anyone else leave town either. Don’t worry about me. I’m sticking to safe zones. ] “Brandon, don’t go out tonight.” Asa says, though he doesn’t expect Brandon to go out anyway. He’s been sticking to Asa like glue. “Are you making me leave?” Brandon asks timidly. Asa shakes his head, “No, it’s not that.” He forwards Luke’s message to him. “Read that.” Brandon’s eyes widen, “Even Tall&Zxy is worried?” Asa nods, “I’m happy to have you stay here. I just wanted to make sure if you decided to go out on your own, you didn’t take any risks.” Brandon turns to him, “It sounds like you know something.” “More like suspect it.” Asa responds. Brandon leans against the wall, “Suspect what?” “Remember how people were getting crazy earlier?” Asa asks. Brandon sighs, “Yeah.” “We’ve been trapped for over a day. I think people’s hope for a rescue is dwindling.” Asa shakes his head, “Some people might panic.” “Is that why we’re holed up in here?” Brandon asks. “We’re here because you were scared.” Asa says. Brandon looks down, “Oh.” Asa moves to the bed and sits down, “It’s okay to be scared Brandon, the situation is scary. But this is a case where the rules of the game work in our favor. People can’t be mobbed in a safe zone, nor can anything be damaged or stolen. As long as we stay in town, we’ll be fine.” Brandon’s eyes widen, “What about the others?” Asa smiles disarmingly at him, “It’s okay. Luke sent the message to his entire friend list, I’m sure they got it. And Ardine is sensible, she has to realize what’s going on.” Brandon sits down next to him, “I’m really pathetic.” Asa shakes his head, “It’s not pathetic to be scared. I’m scared. I’m sure most people are. That’s why we have to keep our heads cool.” “Can I hold you?” Brandon asks. Asa nods and leans over as Brandon hugs him. “It’s okay.” Asa says, “We’ll be fine. And if you need me, I’ll be here.” He smiles up at him, “You know, you’re really helping me too.” Brandon’s eyes widen, “I am?” Asa nods again, “Yes. You are.” The two of them sit like that for a while. Neither is really sure how long, the time is immaterial. Eventually, Brandon breaks the silence. “So, what should we do?” Asa looks up at him, “What do you mean?” “I mean. People are panicking right? Shouldn’t we do something?” Brandon asks. Asa sighs, “I don’t know that there’s anything we can do. The people we really have to worry about are people who won’t listen to reason.” “So we what? Just let them go crazy?” Brandon is incredulous. “It’s not that simple Brandon. People are complicated. If we try to convince them that they are only making things worse, they might think we’re the crazy ones.” Asa stands up and walks into the main room. Brandon gives Asa a glare, “So we should give up without even trying?” Asa sighs again, “I don’t know. Do you want to go out there again? Panicking people can be scary. And it’ll get worse before it gets better. Remember the fights you wanted to get away from? That was just the tip of the iceberg.” Brandon looks down at his feet, “You really think that’s true, don’t you?” “I know it’s true.” Asa looks up at the ceiling, “As soon as we were trapped here, it was inevitable.” Brandon sits down on a chair, “Should we see how Ardine is doing?” Asa nods, “That sounds like a good idea.” Brandon taps his menu a bit, “She’s still on my friend list, so she’s still alive.” “Send her a message.” Asa says, “Invite her up here if you want.” Brandon nods, “Sure.” It only takes a moment for Ardine to arrive. The first thing she does is look around, “Hmm… I see you’ve spruced up the place.” She looks at Asa, “You do have things besides chairs you know.” Asa shakes his head, “We were just here to escape the chaos.” Ardine’s smile flattens, “Ah yes. I think you might want to rethink that.” “What do you mean?” Brandon asks. “I mean that Asa is a well known spiral master and one of the top players on the server. His presence alone might alleviate some people’s concerns.” She summons a cushioned chair from her inventory and sits in it. Asa sighs, “I understand what you are saying, but Brandon was afraid and I didn’t want to leave him alone.” Ardine turns to Brandon, “May I ask your age?” Brandon nods, “I’m fifteen.” Ardine’s expression softens, “I understand how you might feel. I would be lying if I didn’t feel a bit of trepidation myself.” She turns to Asa, “You as well, correct?” Asa nods, “Yes.” Ardine turns to Brandon again, “As much fear as you feel, those younger than you must be feeling that and more. The youngest age allowed at the event was thirteen. Many of their parents did not take part, meaning they are lacking their normal support.” Brandon puts his head in his hands, but Ardine walks over to him and lifts his chin so they are eye to eye, “I do not mean to make you feel shame or guilt. No one would blame you for how you feel, or for wanting to escape the craziness outside. But I think you can handle that fear, and I think there are others who would benefit from seeing that.” She turns to Asa, “What do you think?” Asa walks over to them, “I think she’s probably right. For both of us.” Brandon sighs, “I’m really scared. I know I shouldn’t be-” Ardine cuts him off, “Rubbish! You have every right to be scared, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool!” Brandon’s eyes widen, “Asa said the same thing.” Ardine smiles, “Then I’m glad I decided to party with you guys.” Asa smiles too, “Besides, you aren’t the only one of us who’s scared. And you aren’t alone. We’re the A team right? Asa, Ardine and Andonbray.” Brandon laughs at that, “So we’ll be there.” “Right you are.” Ardine says. “Besides, I wasn’t thinking we’d go out there and just stand around. I want to find all the young people we can and take them to a safe place.” “What about my room?” Brandon asks. Ardine thinks for a moment, “While the sentiment is great, I take it you haven’t collected any furnishings yet?” Brandon shakes his head, “That’s what I thought. Then we should use my room, as I’ve procured a cushioned chair and a couch.” Asa raises an eyebrow, “I noticed you summoned one in here.” Ardine nods, “Indeed. I read up on our rooms and found we can use our furnishings while visiting a room, however we cannot lock them in place and they only last until we leave.” She turns towards the door, “So, shall we?” Brandon nods hesitantly, “Yeah.” Asa nods as well, “I agree.” Ardine starts walking out of the room, “We don’t have to worry about the adults. Collin is organizing parties to try and mitigate the chaos wherever possible. While calming down everyone is, of course, ideal, I believe the children should be our first priority.” Asa thinks for a moment as they walk, “Have you started?” Ardine looks at him, “Started gathering young people?” Asa nods, “No. I am a teacher, and though I currently teach college, I have taught high school aged students in the past. If I learned anything about teenagers, especially scared teenagers, it’s that they are likely to react badly to adult interference. Many will react negatively even to their parents.” Brandon stops on the stairs and looks at them, “I think I get what she means.” Ardine and Asa stop and turn to look at him. “What do you mean?” Asa asks. “As scared as I am of the mob outside, I think I’m even more scared of my own inadequacy. If you hadn’t told me you were scared, I probably wouldn’t have listened to Ardine at all.” Brandon looks down at the floor and Asa can’t tell whether his expression is introspection, shame or some mix of both. Ardine smiles again, “If you think I’m looking down on you, you’re mistaken. It is natural at your age to look to peers over the generations before you. It is what adolescents of most species are driven to do. A few years later, once you reach Asa’s age and adulthood is almost upon you, you’ll begin to see that we have something to offer, but until then you will most likely be more inclined to listen to Asa over me.” Brandon looks up at her and smirks, “You’re not like any teacher I’ve ever had.” Ardine takes a bow, “I will take that as a compliment.” Brandon laughs, “You would.” Ardine laughs too, “Now keep that positive attitude, because we’re gonna need it in a few moments.” She then turns around and they continue down the stairs and out of the building. Asa isn’t sure what he expects when he steps out of the lodge, it definitely isn’t the calm they find. There isn’t bustle; in fact, there’s almost nobody at all. “It’s eerie.” Brandon says, “Something’s not quite right.” Ardine nods, “It’s been like that all day long.” Asa furrows his brow and teethes his lower lip, “It’s like the calm before a storm.” “Cliche, but also likely accurate.” Ardine responds, “But that means we still have time. The more people we can get to a safe, tranquil place, the better. A storm is a good metaphor, as we can do nothing about it except get as many people as we can out of the way.” Asa turns to them, “We should be careful.” He forwards Ardine the message from Luke, “Luke sent me that earlier. I don’t think he’d have done that if something hadn’t already happened.” “That is not a good sign.” Ardine responds, “I am going to go search the safe zones out of town. Brandon, I think you should stay with Asa.” She turns to Asa, “I believe you’ll have more luck with people in town than I would, but be careful. The last thing we need is to stoke the fire and make someone panic ourselves.” “Are you sure you don’t need my help?” Asa asks. Ardine shakes her head, “It’s not that I distrust your skills, but I believe Brandon needs your support more than I do. And people in town are less likely to realize how much potential danger they’re in, so I believe they are more likely to dismiss what I have to say.” Asa nods, “Just remember, we’re here if you need us.” Ardine nods in response, “I will.” She then walks off towards the temple. “Where should we go first?” Brandon asks. Asa thinks again, “What about the park?” “Okay.” Brandon says. It turns out there are more people in the park, but it’s just as quiet. The result of this is a palpable tension. That many of the people here are adults is not lost on Asa, and he can only hope that they are there to distract themselves from the chaos rather than the hopelessness of their situation. “I see two young boys over there.” Brandon says. “Let’s go talk to them.” Asa says. Two boys, one a half head larger than the other, are sitting on a bench in the corner of the park away from everyone else. “Hello?” Asa asks as they approach. “What do you want?” The larger boy virtually snarls at him. Asa raises his hands in surrender, “I just wanted to offer you a safe place to go.” The smaller boy sizes him up, “You were at the meeting.” Asa nods, “I was.” The larger boy stands up and steps in front of the smaller one and taps his menu. Then his eyes widen, “BunnyAce.” He shakes his head, “Still, I won’t let you hurt him!” Asa smiles at this. It reminds him of Luke, “I wasn’t planning on hurting anyone.” “We’re not leaving the city.” He asserts. Brandon steps forward, “You won’t have to. We have an apartment in the lodge we are trying to gather people at.” The smaller boy looks up at Brandon, “Why?” Brandon meets his gaze, “Because we don’t want you caught up in whatever’s happening right now.” “What IS happening?” He asks. Brandon turns to Asa, “Asa? What do I say?” “Adults are used to being in control of their lives, and we’ve been trapped in here for almost two whole days.” Asa sighs, “There’s a good chance some of them will panic.” The larger boy’s eyes widen, showing fear for the first time, “Are you saying they might riot?” Asa nods, “Something like that.” Asa puts a hand on the larger boy’s shoulder, mostly to prevent him from running off, “Look, don’t panic. There isn’t much rioters can do here in town. As long as you don’t accept any duel challenges, they shouldn’t be able to hurt you. But they could be scary, which is why we’re gathering people up.” To their credit, neither boy puts up a facade of fearlessness, “So where are you taking us?” The smaller boy asks. “You know Bonehead Throkdar?” Asa says. The boy nods. “His player is a college professor named Ardine. She’s offered her room at the lodge for this purpose.” They both nod, “Um… I’m Ben.” The smaller boy says. The larger boy then introduces himself, “Theo.” Ben gives Asa another once over, “You seem older than you look.” Asa sighs, “I get that a lot. I’m eighteen.” Ben and Theo’s eyes widen, “Whoa!” “Wow, I… knew you were older than you looked, but… I guess Ardine did mention your age didn’t she?” Brandon says. Asa smiles, “I’m nothing special. Just a short guy with youngish features.” Brandon smiles, “Man! No wonder you seemed so worldly.” Theo steps forward timidly, “Um… I’m sorry I was rude.” Asa turns to him and smiles, “No, it’s good. You should protect your friends.” Ben walks over to them, “Can we go?” His voice sounds scared. Brandon takes his hand, “Come on. We’ll take you there.” As they exit the garden, Asa spots a young girl who’s by herself. “Brandon, can you take them to Ardine’s room?” Brandon nods, “What should I do when I’m done?” Asa thinks for a moment, “Come find me. Wait, just message me. Hopefully, I’ll be up there before it becomes an issue, since you should probably try and get them settled in.” “Be careful.” Ben says. Theo turns to him, “He’ll be fine. He’s BunnyAce.” Asa shakes his head and frowns a little, “You shouldn’t do that.” Theo looks up at him, “Do what?” Asa lowers himself slightly so he and Theo are eye to eye, “Tell Ben how to act or think. I don’t think you mean to intimidate him, but you do. Some part of him is scared you’ll turn on him, even hurt him.” Their eye’s widen and Theo looks at Ben, “I’d never!” Asa steps between them, “I know you wouldn’t. And I know Ben doesn’t want to be afraid of you. But the feelings are there regardless. You two are clearly very close, that’s good. Just be honest with each other without being judgmental.” Ben and Theo nod. Brandon raises an eyebrow at him, “You’re speaking from experience aren’t you?” Asa sighs and looks down, “They remind me of Luke and myself.” “Luke’s gotta be fine right? I mean, he’s one of the best players we have.” Brandon says. Asa shakes his head, “I’m sure he’s alive. He’s careful and skilled, but...” “But...?” Brandon pushes. “I’ve never seen him like this before.” Asa turns to them, “I’ve seen him get serious, but it always wore off by now.” Ben pulls on Brandon’s arm, “Is Luke Tall&Zxy?” Asa nods, “Yes.” He turns and is relieved to see the girl still standing where she was. “You guys should go. We can talk about this more later.” Brandon takes both of the smaller boy’s hands in his and leads them towards the Lodge. As Asa approaches the girl, he realizes she looks lost, perhaps even bewildered. In truth, he isn’t sure how to approach her, and he realizes exactly why Ardine asked Brandon and him to do this. He doesn’t look much older than her and he’s still worried about how he might come off. He can only imagine how Ardine must feel, especially as an educator. If this were the real world, he’d never approach a girl that young alone for fear of being called out on it. Even here, despite their situation, that worry remains. Watching her, Asa gets more and more worried as she stands there staring into space. Eventually it occurs to him she must be in shock, and he realizes he has to just approach her. “Hey.” He says. Rather than being startled, she turns to him somewhat listlessly, “Hello.” “Are you okay?” He asks. She looks at him, “Should I be?” “I don’t know.” He says, “Is something wrong?” Her flat expression breaks, and Asa is sure if she could cry, she would. “I don’t know where he is.” Asa sits down on the ground in front of her, “Who?” She sits down too, “My big brother. I don’t know where he went.” Asa sighs, “I can’t tell you that. He was in the game with you right?” She looks at him, “He drove me here.” Asa meets her gaze, “So he wasn’t in the game?” She shakes her head in response. “Well, I’m sure he’s doing everything he can to get you out of here.” She jumps up, “You don’t understand! He didn’t want to come! He was forced to by my parents! He’s probably happy this happened to me!” Asa’s eyes widen, “I doubt that.” As quickly as her anger appeared, it’s gone, replaced by the listlessness she had before, “I want to see him. I want him to tell me everything will be all right.” Asa frowns. Clearly this girl’s feelings for her brother are complicated. He finds it hard to believe that he’d be happy with his sister stuck in this game, but he doesn’t know him. He does know that he’s met people who would, so it’s not impossible. “I can’t tell you everything will be all right.” Asa says carefully, “But I’d like to help.” She looks down at him, “What do you mean?” Asa smiles, “My guild is trying to gather up all the young people in the game we can find. We want to make sure there are people taking care of our well being. A friend of mine is taking two boys to a safe place. I can take you there, or, if you aren’t comfortable with that, I can tell you where it is and you can go there by yourself.” “You’re BunnyAce right?” She asks. Asa nods in response, “Can you take me there?” Asa stands up and reaches out his hand, “Come on.” As they start walking, Asa turns to her, “We’re going to Bonehead Throkdar’s room at the lodge. Her player is a professor. Gathering everyone was her idea.” “You aren’t going to ask my name?” The girl asks. Asa shakes his head, “It’s fine if you don’t want to tell me. We just want to make sure everyone is okay.” “Shirley.” She says. “Asa.” He responds. She looks around, “So… what’s going on? Everyone just started acting weird.” Asa sighs, “You know how you miss your brother?” She nods, “Other people miss things too, but adults don’t always handle those feelings well.” Shirley looks up at him, “What do you mean?” Asa frowns. It occurs to him that she’s acting much younger than he’d expect her to. It could just be she’s naive for her age, but it could also be she has some developmental disorder or something and he has no way of knowing which. The thought opens up a whole slough of potential issues about their situation that hadn’t occurred to him before. “It means that they might panic.” She sighs, “Oh.” A message from Brandon comes as they are leaving the garden and Asa responds that he’s on his way. She doesn’t say anything else and Asa doesn’t pry so they walk in silence until they reach the Lodge. Collin, Lloyd and Tracy are standing there when they arrive. “Hey Asa. Who’s that?” Collin asks. “Her name is Shirley. I found her staring listlessly around in the garden.” Asa sighs, “She says she came with an older brother, but apparently he doesn’t play the game. Or at least, didn’t take part in the event.” Tracy looks at him suspiciously, “So where are you taking her?” “With the situation as it is, it’s only a matter of time before it breaks. Ardine suggested that we try and gather as many younger people as we can. Try and get them out of harm’s way.” Asa responds evenly. Collin nods, “That’s not a bad idea.” Asa nods, “Ardine said you were trying to organize the adults. Trying to keep things from getting too bad.” Collin sighs, “It’s not easy. People are frustrated. Some of them to the point of being irrational.” Asa sighs, “I wish you luck. We’re bringing the kids to Ardine’s room. If you want to check on us, feel free.” Tracy looks at them, “Do you need someone to watch them?” Asa looks at her, “Aren’t you helping Collin?” Tracy sighs, “I suck at that. All I seem to do is make things worse.” “I’d appreciate the help then.” Asa says, “I’d feel a lot more comfortable going out to find people knowing someone I knew was there.” Tracy smiles warmly at that and Asa sees for the first time why a man like Collin could remain friends with her. They request invites to Ardine’s room, which she accepts a moment later. When they get to the room, Brandon, Ben and Theo are sitting on a couch. “Hey!” Brandon says. Asa, Tracy and Shirley walk over to them, “This is Shirley and Tracy. Tracy is going to stay with you while Brandon and I go out to see who else we can find.” Brandon raises an eyebrow, then turns to Asa, “Then let’s go.” Asa and Brandon spend the rest of the night searching, and unfortunately they find as many young people unwilling to accept their help as those willing to. They do find enough people that Ardine’s room gets crowded, so Tracy and eventually Brandon’s rooms are also used. It’s not the coming dawn that stops their search however, but rather something much more sinister. As they bring a boy who looks immensely young, but Asa suspects is closer to Brandon’s age, to the Lodge from the residential area, they find a group of people standing in the courtyard. “What should we do?” Brandon asks. Asa thinks for a moment before he hears a familiar voice, “You should go. This is no place for you.” He turns to find Luke. “What do you mean?” Asa asks. “I mean exactly what I said. They are trying to instigate something.” Luke turns to face the crowd, “You can try to stop them if you want, but we already tried.” “Who exactly?” Asa responds. “Collin, Jacklyn and I.” Luke says. “Instigate what?” The boy asks. Luke looks at him, “I don’t know. The ringleaders haven’t made any claims. They’re just inciting the crowd and calling dissenters cowards.” Asa realizes Luke has met the boy before. “But surely, if enough top players protest?” Brandon asserts. “Three of the ringleaders are top players. Skydaculous, MasterAshley and JiantHippo.” Luke responds. Asa sighs, “I can’t say that surprises me. Jhippo in particular has always been easily excitable.” “He’s young.” Luke says with a shrug. “How old is he?” Brandon asks. “Younger than you.” Luke answers. “He’s younger than me?” Brandon asks. Luke shrugs again, “He looks younger than you. It also explains his attitude. The guy’s a jerk.” Brandon shakes his head, “But he’s one of the better spiral masters right?” Luke nods again, “Almost as good as me and Asa.” The boy shakes his head, “Isn’t that a bit arrogant?” Brandon turns to him and shakes his head, “Have you been playing long?” The boy shrugs, “A few months, why?” “BunnyAce and Tall&Zxy are known in the community as two of the best spiral masters. Being almost as good as them isn’t an insult.” Brandon says. The boy looks up at Luke, “I know who they are. I’ve seen Luke in action. But… saying you’re better than someone else is still arrogant.” Asa sighs and decides to change the subject, “So, what did Skydaculous and Mashley say when you and Collin spoke up?” “Skydaculous didn’t say anything, but her tone said enough. She basically scoffed at us. MasterAshley called us cowards. That’s when I walked away. I think Collin tried a little longer? I didn’t bother.” Asa can hear the irritation in Luke’s voice. Luke definitely would have said more if he thought there was any point. “So what should we do?” Brandon asks. Luke turns to him, “I’d go inside.” Asa steps forward, “Things outside are that bad?” “We’re lucky the game mechanics limit what we can do, or I think we’d have a riot.” Luke answers. The boy’s eyes widen, “If it’s that bad, let’s go inside.” Asa turns towards the lodge, “We can go if you want. The boy nods, “Lets get the fuck out of here!” They hurry to the Lodge and don’t slow down until they reach Ardine’s room where they find Ardine, Tracy and teenagers of various ages. While the boy goes and mingles with the group, and after checking the people in the other two rooms, Asa pulls Ardine and Brandon out into the hall. “Oh no. I recognize that expression.” Ardine says. Asa nods, “It looks like you were right. Someone finally snapped.” Ardine shakes her head, “Well, it’s been chaotic outside of the safe zones in general, though PKing has stopped for the time being.” “This time it was in town square. As far as I know, they’re still there.” Asa responds. Ardine furrows her brow, “Exactly who is in town square doing what?” “A bunch of people.” Asa says, “But the big issue is Skydaculous, MasterAshley and JiantHippo are among the leaders.” “You saw them?” Ardine asks. Asa shakes his head, “No, but Luke told me they were there. He said he, Jacklyn and Collin tried to calm the crowd down, but they were called cowards and shooed off.” Ardine sighs, “You wouldn’t happen to know what they’re planning?” Asa sighs in response, “I don’t even know that they have a plan.” Brandon shakes his head, “They have to though. Even if it’s just to heckle people into a mob to prevent them from attacking each other.” Ardine looks down, “I fear whatever they are planning is more sinister than that.” “What makes you say that?” Asa asks. “I used to party with Skydaculous on occasion. She liked to play characters who played well with Bonehead. Bonehead Throkdar liked her, but I always found her to be stuck up. She’s also remarkably short sighted. I’ve been in raids with her that wiped more than once.” Ardine’s expression hardens, “Clearly here, that’s not an option.” “Do you know the others?” Brandon asks. Ardine thinks for a moment, “I know very little about Jhippo, though virtually everything I do know is negative. Now, MasterAshley is the strange one there. Normally he’s friendly and sound of mind.” Asa sighs, “I think I know what happened.” “What?” Ardine asks. “I ended up in his group on a few Temple raids. As you said, he’s friendly and of sound judgment, but he’s also not very assertive. He could be bullied into making questionable decisions.” Ardine thinks for a moment. “Hmm, the stress of being trapped in a game of death probably didn’t improve that tendency.” She says. “So, you’re saying he’ll go with the flow?” Brandon asks. Asa nods, “Yes. Even if they run him right off a cliff.” Ardine shakes her head again and sighs, “I hate to say it, because I don’t particularly like Skydaculous or Jhippo, but losing them is a pretty big deal. They are quite skilled.” “Luke doesn’t think we can change their minds.” Asa says. Ardine nods, “I don’t think we can either. It’s just unfortunate.” “What’s unfortunate?” The boy Asa just led up is standing in the doorway. “That there’s a good chance we’ll lose Skydaculous, MasterAshley and JiantHippo.” Ardine says. The boy’s eyes widen, “Why would we lose them? Aren’t they really good?” Ardine nods, “Normally, yes. But tensions are running high, and Skydaculous and Jhippo are hot tempered. I don’t know anything about MasterAshley, but Asa thinks he will be less than adequate at calming the other two down.” “So what are we going to do?” The boy yelps in obvious fear. Tracy steps out into the hallway, “You are going to live.” He turns to her, “How the fuck can you know that!?” He screams. She tilts her head to the side and meets his gaze evenly, “What’s your name?” “What?” He responds. “I said, what’s your name.” Tracy repeats herself. “Aren’t there more important things than my name?” He asks. She shakes her head, “No.” His eye’s widen and then he slumps, “Stephan.” Tracy puts a supportive hand on Stephan’s shoulder, “Then come Stephan. Let’s go.” Stephan motions to Ardine, Asa and Brandon, “But, what about them?” Tracy smiles, “They’ll be fine. What’s more important right now is you.” “Why me?” Stephan asks. “Because you’re a strong, intelligent man and understand panic doesn’t help anybody.” She starts to lead him back into the room, “And you are also self aware enough to realize you are panicking.” Stephan takes a deep breath, “I… am aren’t I?” Tracy smiles, “You were. Now you and I are going to cool off inside.” Asa waits until they’re in the room before he speaks, “Who’d think she’d be so good with kids?” Ardine shrugs, “I’m not that surprised.” Brandon sighs, “I feel weird.” “What do you mean?” Asa asks. “I’m younger than most of them, and yet I feel so much older.” Brandon responds. “It’s the gravity of the situation.” Ardine says, “You’re realizing what Stephan did a moment ago.” “But he panicked.” Brandon says. Ardine nods, “Yes, but you had an advantage. You latched onto Asa, and then Collin and I, giving you a place to focus your energy. I don’t know if he has anyone to do the same for him.” “You’re saying I had support?” Brandon asks. Ardine puts a hand on his shoulder, “You still do, and more than that, you’ve realized the importance of supporting others. I’ve found that to be the key to retaining your sanity in a crisis.” Brandon thinks for a moment, “Having support or supporting others?” “Both. It’s the focus on something outside of yourself. You see, the mob outside may be a group of people, but those people are not thinking of each other. If they were, they’d realize that heckling and bullying people is only going to make the situation worse.” Ardine responds. Ardine’s expression becomes serious, “Collin wants to get everyone together in a few days after this dies down to once again discuss our situation.” “Isn’t that a bit premature?” Asa asks. Ardine raises an eyebrow, “What do you mean?” “I mean that I don’t think waiting a few days is going to change most people’s minds.” Asa shakes his head, “In fact, calling a meeting so soon after all this chaos might be detrimental.” Brandon sighs, “I think Asa’s right.” Ardine nods, “I tend to agree, but I still want to see what Collin has in in mind. At the very least, he doesn’t want to meet with the entire server, just the top players.” Brandon looks down, “Oh.” Ardine shakes her head, “As a member of the A team, you are absolutely coming. Ben and Theo caught me reading my message and wanted to come as well.” She thinks for a moment, “Don’t go inviting people though. This definitely isn’t intended to be a server affair.” Asa is about to ask a question when he gets a message from Luke. [ Tall&Zxy: Those idiots are headed to the Temple. Don’t follow. We have dedicated scouts following them. I just wanted to let you know.] “Ardine, I think you were right.” Asa says. “Oh dear. Considering what I’ve been musing about lately, that’s not exactly the most thrilling realization.” Ardine responds. Asa sighs, “You’re right, it’s not. It’s about Skydaculous, Mashley and Jhippo. I think the sinister thing they were planning was a raid on the Temple.” Ardine tilts her head to the side, her expression full of incredulity, “Without us?” Asa nods, “Without Luke either.” “I suppose the three of them should be enough. The Goblin King was never the most difficult raid.” Ardine muses. “I guess all we can do is wait and see what happens.” Asa says. “I think we should go inside. We’re making people curious.” Brandon says. Ardine nods, “We can discuss this more in depth tomorrow at the meeting.” Asa and Brandon nod in response.
  15. Nightlit

    Voice From The Grave

    I interpreted the lack of anyone standing up to the fact that it was a funeral and Levi calling for a "non-violent" shift of power more than Levi being seen as an accomplished leader. Levi is not a strong wolf, not a true alpha, and not a well liked person. So I still think someone would likely stand up to him at some point. That said, I was speaking about Levi in specific. Removing Levi as alpha would do little to remove the McKinny hold on the pack. And they are clearly willing to sacrifice anything, including their own family members, in order to keep hold of their power. Getting rid of them would require something like a bloody civil war, or a full pack takeover by another pack, since I'm sure any new alpha that didn't act immediately, and by immediately I mean, storm every office with guns and kill everyone as their first act as alpha? Would meet a grisly end before they could make any real change if they weren't under the McKinny thumb. As for the Lycan council? I would hope that falsifying paperwork in order to implicate a rival pack would be against lycan council law. If not? That's a real can of worms, but... I suppose the Lycan council could just be that hands off when it comes to individual pack affairs.
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