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    Nightlit
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Virtualization - 4. So Ends the Lull Before the Storm

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.

And there we go! Chapter 4! The story is definitely starting to pick up! As always, I hope people comment and here's some more info!

Stuff You Might Want to Know

Mechanics – Weaponry: Weapons in Ring Spiral Online are delineated into three categories: Melee weapons, ranged weapons, and mystic weapons. Each individual weapon category is sub-categorized.

Melee into: Heavy weapons, which are more powerful but cannot be thrown; and Light weapons which can be thrown and have more synergy with dual wielding.

Ranged into: auto-loading, such as bows and slings where loading is inherent to using the weapon, which generally require two hands to use; and clipped weapons, like crossbows, that must be manually reloaded, but can generally be used in one hand. Aside of shots per clip, limited ammo/clips is not a mechanic.

Mystic into: staves, which are melee weapons but have powerful defensive effects on spell casting and also used for martial arts; and wands, which have a magic based ranged basic attack and are meant for offensive casting.

Unarmed skills are categorized as weapon skills, and are not in effect in most cases unless you have at least one hand free, but unarmed attacks can be done with most body parts.

Copyright © 2020 Nightlit; All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter Comments

Don't PANIC!!!

Waiting for the axe to fall can take its toll, and giving people time to sweat is a time-honored ploy to soften them up.

So now, rather than observing/gathering information, Skydaculous, Mashley and Jhippo are planning a raid on the temple; and while Ardine notes that the three of them should be enough--usually--to face the Goblin King, they may find themselves playing with different rules and higher stakes.  (But don't worry: If you three die, I'm sure the rest will learn from your errors!)

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19 hours ago, travlbug said:

Don't PANIC!!!

Waiting for the axe to fall can take its toll, and giving people time to sweat is a time-honored ploy to soften them up.

So now, rather than observing/gathering information, Skydaculous, Mashley and Jhippo are planning a raid on the temple; and while Ardine notes that the three of them should be enough--usually--to face the Goblin King, they may find themselves playing with different rules and higher stakes.  (But don't worry: If you three die, I'm sure the rest will learn from your errors!)

Unfortunately, panic was inevitable as soon as they were trapped.

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