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    Nightlit
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Virtualization - 11. Togetherness

Asa leaps over the crocogater’s bite and lands on its back before stabbing down into its blindside. The beast disappears dropping him to his feet on the ground below. “Do we really want to fight the boss again?” He asks as they head to a nearby safe zone.

Collin shrugs, “It wouldn’t be much of a challenge.”

Lloyd sighs, “It wouldn’t be any fun either.”

Tracy rolls her eyes, “This isn’t very fun anymore anyway. I don’t understand those people who can grind forever in these games. Don’t they have a life?”

Gabriel shrugs. “That’s a mean thing to say.”

Tracy turns to him, “I’m sorry, I guess?” Gabriel grumbles in response.

Wake shakes his head, “I vote no on the boss. We’re getting antsy.”

Tracy grumbles, “I’m way past antsy!”

Brandon turns to her, “Is there anything you could do to make it more fun?”

Tracy raises her eyebrow at him, “Is having fun really the point?”

Brandon nods, “If this is our lives now, then shouldn’t we try to live them?”

Lloyd rolls his eyes, “Kid, if we want to get out of here we can’t think like that.”

Wake steps up to him, “Guys, guys! This isn’t a race!”

Collin steps forward, “Well, we shouldn’t fight the boss like this, so I guess that’s that.”

Asa nods, “We got all the drops we needed at least.”

Brandon walks over to Tracy again, “I’m serious, is there any build that you want to try? You have Collin, the best theorycrafter in the game, in your guild. You have every reason to find a good build you actually want to play.”

Tracy looks at him, “You didn’t do that did you?”

Brandon thinks for a moment, “I suppose not, but I’m enjoying lightning tanking. I’m sure there’s gotta be something you could do that’ll help your team.”

Tracy thinks for a moment, “Well, I have always wanted to do a pet build. But who am I kidding. Pet builds aren’t very good, and what we need are good builds.”

Collin raises an eyebrow, “Really? You never said anything. If I’d know that I’d have been working on one for you. I’ve always thought the pet rules were probably underrated. I’ve wanted to see if I could find a good pet build but never had the interest to play it myself.”

Tracy turns to him, “I didn’t want you guys teasing me. You see, I wanted a bunnip as a pet...”

“Bunnips are sick. Why would we tease you about that?” Gabriel says.

“I dunno! You tease me about everything else!” Tracy yells back. Gabriel sticks his tongue out at her in response, causing her to somehow both scowl and grin back at him.

Collin steps in, “Brandon’s right Tracy, we should find you a build you want to use. It’s not just a matter of fun factor. You will more quickly and effectively master a build you actually like.”

Ardine nods, “I agree one hundred percent with that assessment. But, if we’re done here, I’d like to say that our guilds work pretty well together. We have a bit of a damage skew, but that’s very workable.”

Lloyd thinks for a moment, “Collin, you do plenty of damage. If we’re respeccing, I’d try that heal tanking build you’ve been working on.”

“Having two healers can be really good.” Gabriel adds.

Brandon steps forward, “And most pet builds are DPS right?”

Collin thinks for a moment, “Sounds like we’re gonna need to sit down and plan stuff out a bit more.”

Gabriel sighs, “I’m sorry.”

Tracy turns to him, “For what?”

Gabriel shakes his head then looks down sheepishly, “Being a brat. I keep trying to be better.”

Lloyd raises his eyebrow, “Better?”

Gabriel looks down, “I keep watching Brandon. He’s like, so much more mature than I am.”

Brandon smiles, “Really? I keep thinking I’m just a kid.”

Tracy is about to respond when she notices Collin has walked over to the corner of the swamp clearing, “Hey Collin, are you okay?”

Collin sighs, “Sorry guys. I’m okay.”

Tracy walks over to him, “No, you’re not. We’re your friends Collin. Let us help you when we can.”

Lloyd nods, “Don’t worry about us. You’re around people who get it. You got enough to worry about without repressing your stress around people who can see it anyway.”

Ardine nods, “It’s true. We all see how much pressure you put yourself under. I understand why you don’t want to scare the majority of players, but we aren’t the majority of players.”

Collin smiles sheepishly, “Thank you. I mean it.”

Asa shakes his head, “So, has anyone figured out what we’re going to do about the tier problem?” It was found out that the fate wheel is currently capped at its second tier, meaning that only sixty-three of the three hundred thirty three orb slots are available, considerably limiting the maximum power anyone can acquire.

Ardine shakes her head, “It isn’t that unexpected, given the situation.”

Collin nods, “It was probably done to prevent us from grinding until we’re so powerful that content isn’t a threat. Defeating the first temple raid with sixty three orbs on each person should be feasible, so hopefully it’s not a hard cap.”

“What will we do if it is?” Lloyd asks.

Collin sighs, “Be stuck unable to complete later content, but that’s unlikely. If they wanted us dead they’d have killed us already. Even if they wanted to kill us via the in game mechanics, there are plenty of ways they could have done that. Whoever is doing this has gone to great lengths to ensure that we have to face the challenges of the game head on, and fairly. I think they’d continue this trend.”

Ardine nods, “I agree. At no point did I think the entire fate wheel would be capped where it is. Unless they don’t intend for additional content to exist, but if that’s the case, then we’ll still be far more potent than we’d need to be to handle the content available.”

Brandon thinks for a moment, “Don’t we need some kind of plan though? Getting as powerful as we can and making sure everyone is equipped is great, but wouldn’t that be the design teams expectation? We know the boss defeated three waves of pretty good players already.”

Asa nods, “We will, but first things first, we need to get everyone ready. Until then, we can’t know what tools we’ll have to plan with. And you have to remember that they were considerably less powerful, less equipped and less prepared then we are now.”

Collin nods, “Exactly. We’re not gonna get overconfident. Were gonna gather intel and make a plan, I assure you, but we can’t use the initial runs as our guidepost.”

Ardine shakes her head, “It’s unfortunate really. If they were more together, we’d have three runs worth of potential data. But not only were they not together enough to record anything, they were so untogether that we can’t even gleam something useful from their failures themselves.”

Collin shakes his head, “Yeah. We shouldn’t assume that we can’t handle the boss because they couldn’t, but we also can’t assume we can without immense preparation.”

Wake nods, “So basically, we just have to proceed as if the runs didn’t happen?”

Asa shakes his head, “No, but we shouldn’t speculate about what might or might not happen. We should talk to Kwame and Ricky again about what they saw, and plan things out accordingly. Until then, we should get everyone as ready as they can be.”

Brandon nods, “So, maybe we should find other guilds?”

Asa thinks for a moment, “You mean, see who’s in them and their make up and fighting style and stuff?”

“Yeah.” Brandon responds.

“That’s not a bad idea.” Collin says.

Asa nods, “Yeah.”

Wake thinks for a moment, “We can’t think like that.”

Everyone turns to him. “What do you mean?” Asa asks.

“That kind of thinking is what got the others killed right? Didn’t they break into three smaller teams over a silly difference of opinion?” Wake asks.

Collin nods, “That’s true, but each guild is a team. Part of the reason we made them is so people can fight in teams they are comfortable with.”

Wake shakes his head, “But we can’t do that. Not for the raids. People need to be able to fight alongside people they aren’t comfortable with. And we need to think like one big team, not a bunch of little ones.”

Ardine nods, “Wake’s right. While I agree we need guilds, and teams, and that fighting alongside people you trust is good, the Temple raids are a different story. We must have a united front, and we can’t do that if we’re more worried about our guilds than each other.”

Brandon shakes his head, “That’s not right either.” He turns to Wake, “Wake,” he then turns to Ardine, “Ardine. We need to find a balance between being a cohesive whole and being smaller teams. Because we don’t just need to win, we need to conquer. We need to win losing nobody. That means each and every one of us has to be at our best. We need to make sure whatever anyone needs to do that is what happens.”

Gabriel shakes his head, “See? This is what I mean. That was awesome!”

Brandon blushes, “Gabe, can I call you that?” Gabriel shrugs in response, “You’re hard ass and assertive and strong. Maybe that’s the same as being bratty, I dunno, but they can be good qualities.”

Gabriel raises an eyebrow, “Really?”

Brandon nods, “Yeah.”

Collin smiles at him, “Especially in a situation like this. Just remember that the rest of us are in the same boat. Maybe you could direct your anger at people a bit less and more at the situation?”

Gabriel looks down sheepishly, “Yeah. Okay. I’ll try.”

Collin throws an arm over his shoulder, “That’s the spirit!”

Brandon turns to Asa and Ardine, “So, this talk of builds has me wondering. Should we rethink our builds? I know we kind of talked about this already, but it’s been some time and well…”

Asa thinks for a moment, “Do you think we should?”

Brandon sighs, “What? I… don’t know. It just… I thought we should at least consider it.”

Wake smirks and puts an arm around him, “You’re right.”

Ardine nods, “Absolutely! But I’d like to hear your opinion.”

Brandon sighs again, “But… I just… it just...”

Ardine lowers herself to meet Brandon face to face, “Brandon, you are probably thinking in extremes. I imagine you are thinking we probably don’t need to make any major changes to our make up, and that’s probably true. Together we have a healer and two off healers. A tank and an off tank, and two different DPSers. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider how we can improve our builds to synergize more, or to be more independent, since we’re thinking about a raid boss, and those are both things that we should discuss whether we make any major build changes or not.”

Brandon smiles up at her, “I’m glad.”

Asa shakes his head, “Brandon, you shouldn’t worry about what we think. If you have something to say, say it. We trust you.” He turns to Ardine and Wake, “Right?”

Ardine nods, “Absolutely.”

Wake nods as well, “Yep.”

They are about to say more when they are interrupted by another crocogater emerging from the swamp at the edge of the clearing. They make short work of it before deciding to teleport back to town.

When they reach Ben and Theo’s shop, they find the standard people waiting around for the next giveaway. Ben thanks them for their haul and they are about to leave when Asa sees Shirley in a group of younger players.

“Hey.” He says to her.

She turns to him with a wide smile, “Hi Asa!”

He rubs her head. He’d learned that her brother used to do that and it makes her happy. “So, how are things holding up?” He turns to the rest of them, “Is this your guild?”

A smallish boy with extremely short hair whose been scowling every time Asa has seen him responds, “You didn’t tell us you knew BunnyAce!”

Shirley grins at him, “You didn’t ask Nina.”

Asa raises an eyebrow at him, “Nina?”

The boy scowls again, “Don’t tell him that!”

Asa tilts his head to the side, “What should I call you?”

The boy looks at him, “Does it really matter?”

Asa shrugs, “Only if it matters to you.”

The boy looks down, “I… I want to be called Nina, but… I...”

Asa can tell if he could cry, he probably would be. Then it occurs to him, maybe he’s been using the wrong pronoun in his head, “Are you trans?”

The kid looks at him, “How did you know?”

Asa smiles, “Well, I’m gay. And with a thousand people, it stands to reason that there could be at least one person who is trans.”

She looks down, “But look at me! Now I’ll always be a boy!”

Asa frowns. He isn’t sure what to say, “I…”

Shirley shakes her head vehemently, “That doesn’t matter! You want to go shopping for purses! And you love cute things! You’re a girl!”

Asa can’t help but smile at her. Shirley may be childish, but sometimes simplicity has it’s benefits. “I think she’s right. Or, you could look at this another way.”

Nina looks at him, “What do you mean?”

“All of us have been negatively impacted by this in one way or another. But we can choose to lament what we can’t change, or work with what we have.” Asa says.

“I couldn’t put it better.” Collin says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry, but I overheard your conversation, and I think Asa’s right.”

Nina turns to him, “Who are you?”

Collin smiles down at her, “I’m GoldenrodBoy, but now I go by Collin.”

Nina sighs, “And you don’t understand!”

Collin nods, “You’re right, I don’t understand. But I can imagine. Like Asa said, there’s nothing we can do about certain aspects of our situation. Our gender is assigned to us by the game, and that affects how we are allowed to present ourselves. But I’m sure there are male clothing options that you can use, in the right combination, to present your true female gender. I know there’s a kilt. If you recolor it, let’s say, purple it might work as a dress. Anyone can wear a flower in their hair, and the grass vest could complete a tropical motif.”

Nina looks down, “That still sucks.”

Collin sighs, “I’m sorry if I’m being insensitive. I’m just trying to help.”

She turns to her guild mates, “That’s why I’m here. They all accept me.”

Asa smiles, and decides to go along with the obvious subject change, “That’s one of the reasons I’m being open about my sexuality. And so is Collin. By being open about who we are, we can hopefully help others be more comfortable and understanding.”

They all look at him, “Open about your sexuality?”

Asa laughs, “Like I said, I’m gay.” He motions to Collin. “Collin’s bi.” He thinks for a moment, “Maybe I should change my screen name to like, GayAce or something?”

Collin nods, “That’s right! One good thing is we get to be as open minded as we want! As long as we’re here, we’re the community. We get to decide how we treat people.”

Shirley nods a bunch, “Yeah!”

Asa turns to the other people there, two boys, “Hello. I didn’t mean to exclude you.” They both look nervous so Asa waits to give them time.

“BunnyAce? You?” One of them says eventually.

Asa raises an eyebrow, “Yes?”

The boy continues, “But… you’re so small.”

Asa can’t help it, he bursts out laughing, “Yeah. My old avatar was overcompensating wasn’t it?”

The boy’s face scrunches in confusion, “What?”

Asa grins, “I guess I used to worry more about how big I was. But, after being here, it doesn’t seem that important anymore.”

The boy’s face continues to scrunch and Asa wonders if he was this naive when he was thirteen, “What’s your name?”

The boy looks up at him, “Uh… I’m not supposed to tell people that online.”

Asa smiles, “Sure. Then what should I call you?”

“Uh… Just… Guy is fine.” He says sheepishly.

“Okay, Guy it is.” Asa says.

Collin thinks for a moment, “If I might interject. Maybe Guy is a bit too inspecific? We can’t call every man we don’t know the name of Guy.”

The boy looks down, “Uh.”

Asa shakes his head, “Really. It’s okay. Guy can be your nickname until you’re comfortable enough to tell us your real name.”

Collin sighs, “Sorry.”

Asa turns to the other kid, “Hey. So, how are you doing?”

He looks down, “I’m trying to figure out what to do.”

Asa tilts his head to the side, “What do you mean?”

“I used to PK. My brother and I were in a PK guild.” He sighs, “He was culled. I… I’m trying to figure out what I should do.”

Asa sighs, “I’m sorry.”

The boy draws a knife and looks at his reflection in the blade, “Tall&Zxy killed him.” Asa freezes at that. A moment later the boy continues, “I understand why.” He looks up as Asa, “But I don’t want to be your friend.”

Asa looks down at him for a moment then hardens himself. “That’s fine. But we can’t have anyone PKing. There’s too much at stake.”

The boy glares up at him, “And who are you to decide that?”

Asa thins his eyes, “I didn’t decide it. Just think long and hard about what you really want.”

Shirley steps in, “Stop it! He’s not gonna kill anybody!” The boy’s eyes widen and he turns to her. “If you did I’d never forgive you! None of us would! So you can’t!”

The boy looks down at his reflection in his knife again, “Don’t talk to me again.” Asa nods and turns away.

Collin puts a hand on Asa’s shoulder. “Come on.” He says as he motions towards the exit.

Asa follows Collin outside, stopping only momentarily to tell their guildmates that they are going to have a private conversation. They then go to Collin’s room, which is surprisingly sparse all things considered. The last time he was here it was full of furniture for the meeting. Now all there is is a table some chairs and a couch.

“It was inevitable.” Collin says.

Asa raises an eyebrow, “It?”

Collin nods, “We culled people because we couldn’t see another option, but we can’t expect that everyone would be happy with it.”

Asa sighs, “Yeah. I kind of see it as the lesser of two evils.”

Collin nods, “That’s the impression I get from almost everybody. No one was happy about it. Which is kind of astonishing. I’d have expected there to be at least a few self righteous assholes who think they got what they deserve.”

Asa shakes his head, “If there are, they’re being quiet about it.”

Collin sits down on a couch, “So, how are you?”

Asa sits next to him, “Me? This is more about Luke than me.”

“Maybe so, but you got the brunt of it.” Collin says.

Asa sighs, “I wonder what Luke would say?”

Collin nods, “I wonder that too. On the one hand, he was one of the most serious about stopping PKing. On the other hand, he’s really protective of everyone on the server.”

Asa nods, “It’s true.”

“But Luke’s not here. He doesn’t even know about this. So, Asa, how does it make you feel?” Collin pushes.

Asa’s face grows dark, “If I’m really honest with myself? I feel like he got what he deserved.”

“Why do you think that?” Collin asks curiously.

Asa looks down, “I’ve never approved of PKing. Sure, there PvP events where you can die, and that’s fine, but just PKing for the sake of it is a jerk move that interferes with other people’s enjoyment of the game. And sure, if this were a normal game we could just set our PK options to off, but here we can’t.”

Collin nods, “I understand.” He looks at Asa, “But Asa, there’s more to it than that. You’re really angry. I don’t think it’s just the PKing.”

“I wish I could tell you what I’m really angry at. I could name a lot of things, but all of them strike me as being like the PK thing, a place I’m directing anger, rather than something I’m angry at.” Asa says.

“You keep telling me to stop putting things on my shoulders. Maybe you should stop trying to be so positive. It’s okay to be angry. We all have good reason to be angry.” Collin says.

Asa stands up, “But I can’t afford to be angry. Not like this. I’m too skilled. It would be too easy for me to give in to the temptation. To act on these feelings.”

That alarm's Collin slightly, “What temptation? You told me you were angry, you didn’t mention temptation.”

Asa turns away from him, “I don’t even know. That’s what scares me. I could lash out for nothing! And if I did, I’d almost certainly destroy what I was aiming at.” He turns around, “The truth is, in terms of PKing, I’d be one of the most dangerous people on the server. There’d be no one I couldn’t kill if I set my mind to it. Even the best players. Even you, Luke, Jacklyn. No one would be safe.”

Collin nods, “That’s why you have to let it out. You can’t keep bottling it up. Talk to your guild mates. Talk to me. Heck, I’m sure Luke would talk to you about this. He’s probably got similar worries.”

Asa looks down, “Yeah. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Collin smiles, “The truth is, nothing has happened. You haven’t gone crazy and killed someone. There’s nothing to be sorry about.”

Asa smiles up at him, “Then thank you.”

Collin smiles down at him, “We all should be thanking you.”

Asa nods, “I think that’s a good idea. Maybe we should come together in thanks. Like… have a sort of new thanksgiving. Where we come together as a community and give thanks, not to a higher power or to destiny or anything like that, but to each other.”

Collin grins, “That’s a great idea. We should get Theo to make food. Ben tells me he can make basic foods at five star every time.”

Asa grins back, “And it’s a much better reason to approach guilds than planning for a Temple raid.”

“Indeed.” Collin responds, and then they return to the shop.

When they get back, the rest of their guildmates approach them, all wearing various expressions of concern. “What happened?” Ardine asks.

Asa looks over at the guild full of younger players and indicates the boy, who is still holding the knife, “He got angry at me.”

Tracy raises an eyebrow, “Brent?”

Asa turns to her, “You know his name?”

Tracy nods, “I know a lot of the younger player’s names.”

Ardine nods, “Yes, I remember him as well. He’s a quiet one.”

Asa shakes his head, “That might not be true.”

Ardine raises an eyebrow, “What do you mean?”

Asa sighs, “Luke culled his brother, and he knows who I am.” He looks over at Brent, “I think he knows why it happened, but he’s understandably angry.” He turns back to them, “If you’re worried about him going down his brother’s road? It think it would have happened by now.”

Collin nods, “I agree with Asa. I don’t think he’ll follow in his brother’s footsteps so long as he has support. We just need to make sure that support always exists.” He looks over the entire room, “For everybody.”

Asa nods, “Which is why we had an idea.” He turns to Wake, “Come with me.”

Wake raises an eyebrow, “Me? Why me?”

Asa smiles, “Because if anyone in our guild needs good PR it’s you.” Asa hugs him, “We all know you are one of the sweetest guys ever, but I think it’s time everyone learned that.”

Wake sighs, “But...”

Collin steps forward, “If I may?” Asa nods, “It’s not just for you. Now that things are dying down, people are starting to settle in.” He glances at Nina, “You are in a unique position to help everyone start to judge people not by how they look, but rather, who they are.”

Wake tilts his head to the side, “I am?”

Collin nods, “You are.”

Asa grins up at him, “And besides, I know this’ll be right up your alley.” That causes Wake to raise an eyebrow again as the three of them walk over to Theo.

Theo grins up at them as they approach, “So, what do you guys want?”

Asa and Collin smile down at him. While they know Theo’s uncomfortable with a few of the older players, he’s been fine with all the members of their guilds for some time, even Wake. “We had an idea we wanted to run by you.”

Theo nods, “Oh?”

Collin’s smile extends to a grin, “We had the idea that we’d have a large thanksgiving feast. Not in the name of the classic holiday, but rather our own thanksgiving, where we give thanks to each other for surviving this and being supportive.”

Wake grimaces, “Really? Can I organize it?”

Theo grins, “You wanted me to make the food right?”

Asa nods, “Do you two mind being responsible?”

Wake and Theo look at each other, both clearly happy. “Nope!” They say together.

As Wake and Theo start giddily planning, Asa and Collin walk over to their guildmates, who have grouped together again.

“You two look happy.” Brandon says.

Ardine nods, “Indeed. It’s good to see.” She smirks, “So what are you scheming?”

Collin shakes his head, “Are we that obvious?”

Tracy rolls her eyes, “Collin, you’ve been more pessimistic than me lately.”

Collin snickers, “I guess I have been.”

Ardine steps forward, “So? Do you intend to keep us guessing?”

Asa shakes his head, “We decided to organize a group celebration and dinner. So that we as a community can give thanks to everyone.”

Brandon grins, “That is a good idea!”

Ardine nods, “It is. So, what can we do?”

Collin smiles, “Theo and Wake are handling the details of the actual event. We should go out and drum up interest.”

Lloyd steps forward, “It shouldn’t be mandatory. If people don’t want to come that should be okay.” Everyone nods in response.

Asa, Ardine and Brandon wave to the Indecisive ones as they head towards the residential area. “I wonder if anyone has bought a house?” Brandon asks.

Ardine nods, “Most likely. It’s possible to grind enough soul energy to buy a house in a week or so if you spend enough time, even fighting the earliest enemies. There are plenty of players who wouldn’t be good enough to risk dungeons or raids if death is permanent. They’d have little to do but grind the beginner field monsters for soul energy.”

Asa nods, “And we’ve been in here for over a month.”

“We can’t dwell on that now.” Ardine says, then she waves. “There we go! Hi Mitchell!”

The A team approaches Mitchell, a man in his late sixties who they’d partied with on a few dungeon runs. “Hello. To what do I owe the honors?” He asks.

Brandon smiles at him, “There’s gonna be a celebration! We’re spreading the word.”

He smiles, “Thank you! I’ll spread the word along.”

As Asa looks around, he realizes that there are a large number of players he doesn’t know, “It’s strange, normally a thousand people on the same server is nothing. But somehow, with us trapped here, it seems like a lot.”

Brandon looks at him, “What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve never been the most social gamer, and now I realize I don’t know anybody. Even the other top players, like Collin. I knew of them and have played with some of them on Temple raids or when Luke wasn’t around, but I really only got to know them after being trapped here.” He sighs, “When I look around, I realize there are a lot of players who spend all their time in town. It’s like there’s a whole other community here that those of us who are out fighting aren’t really a part of.”

Ardine thinks for a moment, “You know, that’s probably true.”

Brandon looks at them, “Maybe this thanksgiving thing we’re doing will unite us?”

Asa smiles, “I hope so.”

“But perhaps there’s more to it than that.” Ardine says.

Brandon and Asa turn to her. “What do you mean?” Brandon asks.

Ardine looks around, “We have talked about being a community, but perhaps we need to think about that more. So far, this dinner aside, all our steps have been in service of effectively completing game content. Maybe that’s not enough?”

Asa follows her gaze with his own, “Maybe not.”

“But what is?” Brandon asks.

Ardine shakes her head, “I wish I knew.”

Asa looks at the sky, “It’ll be getting dark soon.”

Ardine nods, “Yeah. We can discuss this later. For now, let’s see who we can find?” Brandon and Asa nod and they spend the rest of the afternoon combing the residential area.

Meanwhile

Collin and his guild are about to head out when Lloyd’s dark hand appears on his shoulder. He turns to him, “What’s up?”

Lloyd motions towards the lodge, “I wanted to talk to you in private.”

Collin turns to look for Tracy and Gabriel, but they aren’t around, “What’s going on?”

Lloyd turns and starts to walk, “Tracy and Gabriel are going to keep searching for people.”

“Then they know about this?” Collin asks.

“Tracy knows I want to talk, not about what. I don’t know if Gabriel knows.” He shrugs, “It’s not that I wanted Tracy to miss the conversation, but I didn’t want Gabriel to feel left out.”

Collin nods, “Sometimes I forget that you aren’t coldhearted, just callous at times.”

Lloyd looks down, “It’s something I’m working on.”

Collin grins as his friend, “I’m glad.”

They don’t say much else until they are in Lloyd’s room. “Look man, you need to stop.” Lloyd says sternly.

Collin’s eyes widen, “Stop what?”

Lloyd walks over to a couch, “You need to stop trying to be the leader. Stop trying to support everyone else. It’s killing you man.”

Collin’s eyes thin, “You can’t be serious. You want me to abandon everyone?”

Lloyd turns to face him, his dark eyes challenging, “That’s what you’re doing right now.”

Collin is incredulous, “What are you talking about?”

Lloyd shakes his head, “Look, we’re gonna go out soon and have the fight of our lives. The Temple raid is gonna be something else. You gotta have your head in the game, not up in the clouds.”

“That’s why I need to take this seriously!” Collin yells.

Lloyd yells back, “No! You need to be at your best! You are never at your best when you get like this.” He stands up and walks over to him, “We need the you that spends all his time spinning plans, and we don’t have that right now. I bet you haven’t given the boss two thoughts.”

Collin sighs, “With everything that’s been going on I haven’t had a chance to.”

“So let other people handle that and do what you do best.” Lloyd steps forward, “No one else will tell you this, but I will. Asa, Ardine, Jacklyn, Luke, Jerome... they’ll execute the plan you make flawlessly, but it’ll be your plan. They are counting on you to make that plan as much as you are counting on them to execute it. We are all counting on you Collin. If your head is too far up your ass then we’re all dead!”

Collin looks down, “But how can I think about that right now?”

Lloyd puts a supportive hand on his shoulder, “You gotta remember why you play. You gotta remember what you like to do. You don’t strategize because you want to win, you strategize because you love it!” He smiles at him, “You gotta find a way to love the game again. You gotta find that part of you that grins when you have the perfect realization. Who revels in the perfect plan. That’s not just the Collin everyone likes, it’s the Collin we need, now more than ever.”

Collin sighs, “That’s a lot to put on me.”

Lloyd shakes his head, “It’s the one thing we need from you. All this other stuff you are trying to be responsible for, there are loads of people who can do that. But this?" He squeezes Collin’s shoulder, "Unless someone has been epically holding out on us, you are the only one on the server who can do this.”

Collin looks at him, “Lloyd… I...”

Lloyd pulls Collin into a hug, “We’re here for you. We need you to be here for us. Not this guy you are pretending to be. You.”

Collin takes a deep breath, “I’m envious, you know?”

Lloyd blinks at him, “Envious?”

Collin looks down, “Of all the players who can do all this crazy stuff.”

Lloyd laughs, “Oh, of course you are. We all are. But think about it. You are so good at what you do that everyone considers you a top player, even though you can’t do all those things. We don’t need another Jacklyn, Asa or Luke. We already have them. We need Collin the GoldenrodBoy. The guy who bitch slaps the physics of the game.”

Collin can’t help but smile at that, “You already said that.”

Lloyd grins at him, “And I’ll keep saying that until you get your head out of your ass.”

Collin shakes his head, but he’s still smiling, “You said that already too.”

Lloyd tilts his head to the side, “So, are you finally gonna do it?”

Collin ponders this, “I’m gonna need more information.”

Lloyd nods, “Then let’s go find Ricky and Kwame and get it.”

Collin stands up, “Let’s do more than that. Let’s hold a strategy meeting after the dinner.”

Lloyd frowns, “You’re doing it again.”

Collin shakes his head, “No, this time I’m really not. I’m not gonna do this one alone.” He puts a hand on Lloyd’s shoulder, “And I don’t care that people don’t consider you a top player. I need you and Tracy there.”

Lloyd grins, “Tracy isn’t gonna be happy about that.”

Collin rolls his eyes with a shrug, “When is Tracy ever happy with us?”

Lloyd laughs, “I dunno.”

Collin turns towards the door, “But I think I can make her happy. See, I may not have thought about the boss, but I have been putting together that pet build she was looking for.”

Lloyd raises an eyebrow, “So we need to help her catch a bunnip.”

Collin nods, “I’m sure the A team would be happy to help.”

“You really like those guys don’t you?” Lloyd asks.

Collin smiles, “I wasn’t expecting too. Everything I heard about Luke told me he was a loner who only cares about himself and Asa wasn’t much better. And Ardine was a… well… the name she picked for the character she played was spot on.”

Lloyd shakes his head, “Well, we weren’t exactly the cornerstones of niceness or intellect either.”

Collin grins at him, “Yeah. I guess the situation has shown us who people really are. Not the guy they play on the internet.”

Lloyd raises an eyebrow, “Shouldn’t there be more assholes then?”

Collin sighs, “Who knows. Let’s not think about that.”

Lloyd nods, “Yeah.”

Meanwhile

Wake and Theo are in the back part of the lodge setting up tables. “How did you find this place?” Wake asks.

Theo grins, “It’s not accessible to everybody. It requires a certain amount of non combat skills to access.”

Wake raises an eyebrow, “Isn’t that a bit odd? That there’d be a community room that you can’t access without the right skills?”

Theo nods, “It is. I also don’t think it was here before. The door just appeared. Maybe you can’t see it without the proper skills, but I dunno about that.”

Wake shakes his head, “Well, at least it’s here. Trying to find an editable place large enough for everyone would be tricky otherwise.”

Theo puts a table down, “That’s gotta be why this exists.” Wake nods in response.

“How are things going?” Jacklyn asks as she enters the room with two young men Wake hasn’t seen before.

Wake grins, “It’s going great.”

Jacklyn sighs when one of the guys step’s back, “Oh come on Keith.” She turns to Wake, “Sorry about that. He’s kind of a… no he’s not kind of. He just is a scardy cat.”

Wake sighs, “I’m used to it.”

“Well stop! Have a backbone!” She says.

He looks down, “That just makes people more scared of me.”

Jacklyn shakes her head, “If being in here has taught me anything, it’s that we gotta rethink how we look at things. You are one of the nicest people I know. So when people get scared of you, don’t back down. Just be nice. Courage doesn’t have to mean conflict ya know.”

Wake looks at her, “It’s not easy.”

Jacklyn nods, “Never said it was.”

Keith steps forward, “Um… I’m… not really scared of him. I’m just… I’m just...”

“He’s just scared.” The other guy says.

Jacklyn motions towards him, “This is Tom.”

Tom nods, “Howdy.”

“So, Wake. Keith is gonna be healing and I wanted you to mentor him.” She says.

“Huh? Me?” Wake asks, a bit surprised.

Jacklyn nods, “There isn’t a better man for the job.”

Wake raises an eyebrow at her, “But I know I’m not the best healer in the game.”

Jacklyn shakes her head, “Best is a relative thing. You team up with Brandon right?” Wake nods, “Then you have experience with the lightning tank build.” She turns to Tom, “See, he’s doing the lightning tank build. And I thought, ‘Hey, Brandon and Wake have been a rocking team using that build’ so here we are.”

Keith nods, “We want to be able to help with the raid! I know it’ll require everyone to be at their best. And...”

Theo steps forward, “No sweat. The A team will definitely help you.” He looks up at Wake, “Right?”

Wake nods, “Of course. I was just wondering if there might be a better person for the job. But I guess Brandon and I do have more experience with that particular build combination than most.”

Jacklyn shrugs, “No one else on the server seems to be using it anyway. And that’s all that matters.” She then grins, “I knew you’d be the guys to ask!”

Theo sighs, “Uh… it would be great if you guys could help set up tables. I need to start cooking, but it’s been a lot of work just the two of us.”

Jacklyn grins, “Of course!” She walks up to Theo, “You also need some more backbone. You and Ben are two of the most important people on the server. At least as important as the top players, if not more. It’s nice that you’re being polite, but if you need help, just PM the friend list. You’ll get loads of people.” She puts a supportive hand on his shoulder, “You’ve done way better than anyone could have guessed. Maybe at first we looked at you as kids. No one whose anyone does now.”

Theo looks down, “I am a kid though.”

Wake looks down at him, “That’s fine though. You can be a kid and have everyone’s respect.”

Jacklyn nods, “Yep! You should listen to this guy. He’s pretty awesome.”

She turns to Tom and Keith, “So what’s the verdict? Gonna help out or not?”

Keith looks down, “I was gonna go grind… but...”

Jacklyn shakes her head, “Then go grind! Like I said, we can easily get loads of people.”

Tom nods, “I’d help too, but I think Keith and I should...”

Theo nods, “I agree with Jacklyn. Don’t help if you don’t want to, especially if you have something else to do. I won’t let anyone be guilt tripped into helping me. Not today. Today is about feeling good!”

Jacklyn grins, “See? That’s the confidence I’m talking about! That’s the Theo we all love.”

Keith and Tom wave and leave while Jacklyn starts helping Wake set up the tables.

Some Time Later

Asa’s eyes widen as they enter the large meeting area. It’s not unlike a combination gym/auditorium one might find at a high school: a large flat relatively plain rectangular room with a much more ornate stage. The edges of the stage curve up into a very slight point at the top center and the curtains are somewhere between magenta and a dark crimson.

“Wow! I didn’t know this room was here!” Asa says.

Brandon, on the other hand, is scrunching up his face, “There’s an entry for it in the help menu. Apparently you need some amount of cooking skill in order to see the door normally, but after it’s been set up you can make it public.”

Asa grins, “Oh? That’s a cool feature.”

Brandon is scrutinizing his menu, “It is, but I don’t remember it.”

Asa raises an eyebrow, “What do you mean?”

Brandon thins his eyes, “I spent a lot of time scouring the help menu when we first got here, remember?”

Asa nods, “I do. Are you saying it wasn’t there before?”

Brandon nods, “Yeah, I don’t think it was.”

Asa ponders this, “It doesn’t make sense that they’d have something like this and then add it to the help menu later. I’d think it would either be in the help menu the entire time or remain secret.”

“Doesn’t that mean it was added since we started?” Brandon asks.

Asa looks down, “That’s a really bad sign. They wouldn’t be adding content if they had any intention of taking us out of here.”

Brandon thinks for a moment, “That also doesn’t make much sense. Why would they add content? We aren’t paying for this anymore, are we?”

Asa shakes his head, “I don’t think so. Luke and I didn’t even buy our tickets through WorkArcs. We got them through Amazon.”

Brandon shakes his head, “Then why would they add content? Wouldn’t that cost them money?”

“I don’t think that’s an issue. It must be costing them loads of money to keep us all in here. Like Ardine said, they have to give us nutrients and water. They have to move our bodies around in order to avoid atrophy and necrosis. If they hadn’t been doing those things a lot more of us would have died by now.” Asa says.

Brandon sighs, “I can’t believe that doesn’t scare me anymore.”

Asa nods, “It’s true. I guess we just got used to it.”

Wake walks up to them, wearing his signature smirk, “Frowning is not allowed!” He says in a jovial tone, “If you want to keep frowning I’ll have to pick you both up and throw you on stage!” His smirk extends to a grimace, “This room has karaoke.”

Asa laughs, “I’d do karaoke!”

“What’s karaoke?” Brandon asks.

Wake looks at him, “You might know it as char-ee-oh-kee.”

Asa nods, “Karaoke is the original Japanese pronunciation.”

Brandon scrunches up his face, “You want us to sing in front of everybody?”

Wake smirks, “That or smile.”

Brandon shakes his head and laughs, “I’ll just smile thank you.”

Asa looks around, “You guys really did a good job.”

Wake’s smirk extends to a grimace, “Thanks!” He hugs Asa close, “I’m glad.”

Theo steps forward, “Hey. Guys...” He seems a little uncomfortable.

“You okay?” Brandon asks.

Theo looks down, “Hey… you guys are like… together right?”

Asa raises an eyebrow, “I assume you mean a couple?” Theo nods. Asa turns to Wake, “So… I don’t think we ever really defined what we are. Are we a couple?”

Wake nods, “I’d say so.”

Asa turns to Theo, “You seem uncomfortable.”

Theo’s eyes widen, “I’m totally cool with that! I… just...” He looks down, “How do you do it?”

“Do what?” Asa asks.

Theo looks at Wake, “How can you be so comfortable with it.”

Wake looks at him, “With being gay?”

Theo sighs, “Yeah. Isn’t it… like… weird?”

Asa blinks for a moment, “I mean… technically? If by weird you mean abnormal, then yes.”

Theo raises an eyebrow again, “You say that like it’s nothing.”

Asa looks at him, “It’s not nothing, but I don’t think its a big deal either. Being left handed is also abnormal, but I’ve never let that bother me. And sure, being gay is probably a bigger deal than being left handed, but not because it’s abnormal.”

“Then why is it a big deal?” Theo asks.

Wake sits down on the bench of a table nearby, “Because people can make anything a big deal if they try hard enough. But that was out there. In here, being gay isn’t a big deal. At least, no one’s made a deal of it to us.”

“Wake… when did you know your sexuality?” Theo asks timidly.

Wake shakes his head, “That’s not really how it works for most people I think. It’s not a question of knowing your sexuality, it’s a question of accepting it. I had friends who accepted their sexuality who were aware of it as long as they can remember, even as young as five or six years old. While other’s I know were in heavy denial until they were in their later teens, even early twenties.”

Asa nods, “That seems right to me too. I know I didn’t always know I was gay, but now that I do, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t.”

Theo looks up at them, “I… think… I...” He looks at Brandon nervously.

Brandon smiles at him, “I can go if you want, but you should know. I’ll always be on your side.”

He sighs, “I… No. I know I’m gay.” Brandon smiles reassuringly at him in response.

Asa smiles at him, “I had a feeling. You weren’t being that subtle.”

Wake smirks, “You wanted us to know, didn’t you?”

“Maybe because I know you guys are together. I know you guys would understand.” Theo looks down, “I don’t think most people would.”

“You’d be surprised.” Asa says, “At the very least, like Wake said, no one seems to be making a big deal of it here.”

Theo smiles at him, “So, I guess I picked the right place to come out?”

Wake nods, “The right place to come out is the place you choose to. I know that sounds corny, and I know at your age what everyone else thinks seems to be the end of the world, but really, what’s important is what you feel.”

Asa nods, “One thing you learn growing up is that you can’t control what other people think. And you shouldn’t base your self esteem on what they think either. Some people will be jerks regardless of what you do, while others will tell you what you want to hear, even when that’s a bold faced lie.”

Wake chuckles, “It’s true. It’s especially true at your age and in early high school, but it never really stops.”

Theo raises an eyebrow, “Are you saying that’s bad?”

Asa shrugs, “That’s subjective, but I’d say it’s not necessarily bad. It just has the potential to be.”

Wake shakes his head, “Don’t worry about it.”

Brandon gets a message from Ardine.

[ Bonehead Throkdar: Are you ready in there? ]

“How close are we to letting people in?” He asks.

Wake looks around, “I think we can let people in right now.” He turns to Theo, “Don’t you think?”

Theo nods, “I think so. I’ll go do a final check. Could you guys start inviting people?”

Asa smiles, “Sure.”

As people start milling in, Asa can’t help but be happy at the smiles on their faces when they see the room.

“I have to congratulate them. Theo and Wake did a marvelous job.” Ardine says.

Brandon grins, “Didn’t they?”

Asa turns to his guild mates, “Let’s go find the Indecisive ones and sit down, shall we?”

Ardine nods, “I must say, I am quite surprised. They are much more personable than they used to be.”

Brandon laughs, “I’m sure they’re thinking the same thing.”

Ardine laughs, “No doubt.”

Wake raises an eyebrow, “What do you mean?”

Ardine nods, “Well, I wasn’t referring to you when I said that. I can’t imagine you being anything other than a perfect gentleman. But Asa and I… well… I was playing a meat for brains Barbarian and Asa spend most of his time with Luke, who is not the most sociable person.”

“But he’s a good person.” Wake says, “He’s proven that at least.”

Ardine nods, “That he has.”

“There they are!” Brandon says, “Shall we go?”

When they reach the table where the Indecisive ones are sitting, they find Luke and Kwame sitting with them. “Hi.” Asa says to Luke.

Luke smiles sheepishly, “Hi.”

Asa sits down across the table from Luke, “I’m glad you came.”

Luke nods, “I couldn’t miss this. I… needed it.”

Asa smiles at him, “I’m glad you realize that.”

Wake grimaces at them, “Well, I’ll let you two get acquainted. I should go play host.”

The rest of the evening goes smoothly, filled with happy faces, bad singing and general merriment. It’s a far cry from the divided community they were those weeks ago, and Asa can’t help but wonder what will happen to them. He hopes for more happy times like this.

He isn’t given much time to ponder his worries though, his guild mates make sure of that. And so do the Indecisive ones. It’s clear people have needed a party like this for along time, because it continues well into the night. Perhaps for the first time since this began, everyone is happy.

This was an interesting chapter to write. In a lot of ways it shifted the story, since I ended up liking a lot of the new characters.

Stuff You Might Want to Know

Mechanics – Healing Refractory Period: After receiving most healing during combat, the target will enter the healing refractory period which temporarily lowers healing effectiveness on them. A gauge shows how much time is left, more time means weaker heals. If a refractory period occurs within another one, the gauge is instead extended (ex. a 5 second gauge added to a 7 out of 10 second gauge results in a 12 out of 15 second gauge). Refractory periods end immediately when combat ends.

Mechanics – Healing: Healing varies by skill group.

Consumables: Standard shop consumable’s healing is not affected by the refractory period but they do have refractory periods. Consumables made by alchemy have individual properties.

Fire: Fire heals using powerful burst heals with low refractory periods but high MP costs and cooldowns. Normally, fire has the strongest revives.

Ice: Ice heals via buffs with incidentally heals triggered by other things (ex. dealing damage or moving). Ice healing usually applies it’s refractory period immediately rather than when the effect ends.

Lightning: Lightning heals with regens that can be applied to characters or through glyphs. Glyphs lack a refractory period. Buffs can be ended prematurely for big burst heals but have long refractory periods.

Universal: Universal has a wide variety of healing with average refractory periods and cooldowns. It uniquely can affect refractory periods.

Copyright © 2020 Nightlit; All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter Comments

I guess I was wrong about Mitchell. He's just a player in his 60s playing the game, haha.

The developers are probably watching what's going on in the game. Makes me wonder if they added the community room because the players indicated the need for one.

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2 hours ago, Geoffrey257 said:

I guess I was wrong about Mitchell. He's just a player in his 60s playing the game, haha.

The developers are probably watching what's going on in the game. Makes me wonder if they added the community room because the players indicated the need for one.

I don't have an official timeline for the story, since the date doesn't really matter, but the technology would indicate it must takes place decently into the future. Mitchell would be, in that case, in the generation that started playing video games during the NES era while he was a kid, and thus has been a gamer for more or less his entire life. But don't take that as an official note of the time period of the story, just an example of why a person his age might still be playing games.

That is a good guess. We may never know! (Obviously I do, but... perks of being the author!)

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