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    Nightlit
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Virtualization - 5. Little By Little

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.”

Another chapter! Another bit of game play info.

Stuff You Might Want to Know

Mechanics – Weapons (Part 2): The main weapon groups that exist in Ring Spiral Online.

Blades: Blades are the jack of all trades weapon, versatile but without a real specialty. They are linked to Ice magic. Swords are the heavy blade while knives are the light blade. Knives in particular, are the best weapon for blindsiding.

Poles: Poles are the reach weapon that excels in defense. They are linked to Lightning magic. Pole-arms are the heavy pole while spears are the light pole.

Axes: Axes are the powerful offensive weapon. They are linked to Fire magic. Great axes are the heavy ax while hand axes are the light ax.

Bows/Slings: Arcing weapons that require two hands to utilize. While they are distinct weapon types with different skill trees, their basic functionality is the same.

Crossbows: Direct weapons that requires loading and are linked to Artisan skills.

Demolitions: Explosives and traps which have a similar function to magic when compared to other weapons.

Staves/wands: Similar to Blades, Poles and Axes, Staves are the “heavy mystic” weapon that is limited to melee. Wands can be used at range, functioning as the “light mystic” weapon. Staves are notably also used for martial arts.

There are other more specific weapons that have their own rules, some of which can even have their own skill trees.

Copyright © 2020 Nightlit; All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter Comments

While most players are now engaged in laying the groundwork for their adventuring--finding complementary players to join into guilds (creating complementary builds and skills)--I can't help but feel excited about the next step--moving on to actual game content. (They started "playing" the game the moment they began to strategize.) In view of the disastrous temple raid, we know for a fact that the game content has changed. So which is more important to the puppeteers who have arranged for this scenario, the game play itself (a la Ender's Game) or the interactions/ behaviors of the players?  Are the "winning" players pre-selecting themselves (essentially auditioning) for another assignment/ undertaking based on their performance in the present module? (In passing, Asa Butterfield played Ender in the movie: Are you giving us a hint?)

Hmmm.  Granting the players genitals but no erections. I have a sneaky feeling that that's going to change. ^_^

Asa, congratulations on coming out. That said, I'm really not sure why you felt the need to do so now  unless you did it to build trust (a pretty good reason in and of itself).

Edited by travlbug
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4 hours ago, travlbug said:

While most players are now engaged in laying the groundwork for their adventuring--finding complementary players to join into guilds (creating complementary builds and skills)--I can't help but feel excited about the next step--moving on to actual game content. (They started "playing" the game the moment they began to strategize.) In view of the disastrous temple raid, we know for a fact that the game content has changed. So which is more important to the puppeteers who have arranged for this scenario, the game play itself (a la Ender's Game) or the interactions/ behaviors of the players?  Are the "winning" players pre-selecting themselves (essentially auditioning) for another assignment/ undertaking based on their performance in the present module? (In passing, Asa Butterfield played Ender in the movie: Are you giving us a hint?)

Hmmm.  Granting the players genitals but no erections. I have a sneaky feeling that that's going to change. ^_^

Asa, congratulations on coming out. That said, I'm really not sure why you felt the need to do so now  unless you did it to build trust (a pretty good reason in and of itself).

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.

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What was the incentive for those players to raid the Temple? I don't understand why they were so eager to go ahead without more support.

17 hours ago, travlbug said:

Hmmm.  Granting the players genitals but no erections. I have a sneaky feeling that that's going to change. ^_^

Yeah I thought the same thing. Maybe it's a "feature" that has to be unlocked

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5 hours ago, Geoffrey257 said:

What was the incentive for those players to raid the Temple? I don't understand why they were so eager to go ahead without more support.

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.

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