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Virtualization - 9. Upward Delving

Luke thinks about Asa as he walks up to the lodge. He can’t help it. Despite everything, he still feels like he needs to protect him. He realizes that’s irrational. Even when they were a team, he only protected Asa because he was a tank and Asa was pure DPS. The reverse could have been true.

It makes him wonder if they might have chosen those roles in game because they mirrored their roles outside the game. He can’t be certain, and that bothers him because it makes him realize Asa is right. He needs to move on. But he can’t.

“Luke right?” Collin’s voice snaps him out of his reverie.

“Yeah.” Luke is glad for the distraction.

“I wanted to talk to you about guilds.” Collin says.

Luke nods, “What about them?”

Collin motions towards the front desk, “I’d rather finish in private, if that’s okay.”

Luke raises an eyebrow, “Okay.”

When they enter Collin’s room, Luke can’t help but notice he has heavily altered it. Luke thinks the red and gold theme is gaudy, especially with Collin’s hair color, but aside of that, the room looks quite comfortable, like a college apartment. Complete with a couch and an easy chair.

When Luke stops looking around, Collin grins at him, “What do you think?”

Luke shrugs, “Not really my colors.”

Collin nods, “Yeah. I’ll probably change them later. I wanted something that looked nothing like the default room coloration. Something to remind me that this is my room.”

“Ah.” Luke deadpans.

Collin takes that as a cue to bring up the real subject, “About guilds.”

“What about them?” Luke asks.

“I don’t think you should join one. Unless it’s Asa’s of course.” Collin says.

Luke raises an eyebrow at that, “That’s not what you thought at the meeting.”

“I meant you in specific.” Collin walks over to the couch and sits down, “You and Asa have been partners as long as anyone can remember. No one would bat an eye if you joined Asa’s guild. But you have a reputation you may not know about.”

Luke ponders for a moment, “I know I’m known as one of the best spiral masters.”

Collin shakes his head, “That’s not what I’m talking about. You are really skilled, and that’s good, we need that, but you also have a tendency to step in when someone less skilled than you is doing something.”

Luke can’t help but think of Asa and his conversation, “Am I really that bad?”

Collin taps the seat next to him and Luke walks over and sits down, “I wouldn’t call it bad. I think it’s one of your better qualities in general, but here it poses a problem. If you were to enter a guild, you might end up becoming the backbone of said guild. They might even recruit you to rely on your skills. We can’t afford that. People need to improve their skills, and that’s not something they can do with a top player doing everything for them.”

Collin sighs, “There’s another reason though. Most of the top players have partied up with a lot of people. Even Asa spent a good amount of time with other parties, particularly when you weren’t online. But you only ever partied with Asa. When Asa wasn’t around, you were pretty much always solo.” Luke raises an eyebrow in response, but lets Collin continue. “Maybe I’m being paranoid, but there’s a chance if you join any guild that isn’t Asa’s that you might become an object of contention with other guilds.”

Luke looks down, “I hate that you’re right.”

Collin nods, “I hate it too. I’m not singling you out. There are some other players I have similar feelings about. But you are the biggest name one, so I felt I had to say something.”

“Is that why you made your own guild?” Luke asks.

“Partially.” Collin answers, “But another big part of it is that I firmly believe that people work better with people they know and trust. That’s why I want people to make guilds rather than just party.”

Luke nods, “I understand.”

Collin nods, “I thought you would.”

Luke thinks for a moment, “So, what do you think I should do?”

Collin sighs, “I’m not sure. Frankly, Asa’s guild doesn’t need you right now. So it might be better for you to sort out whatever’s preventing you from joining it.”

Luke sighs, “Am I that obvious?”

Collin nods, “You’re a famous player who played with a single person for years. People notice that.”

“I guess.” Luke thinks for a moment, “Collin, I want to tackle the crystal cave.”

Collin raises an eyebrow, “That shouldn’t be hard for you.”

Luke stands up, “I still don’t want to go alone.”

Collin thinks for a moment, “Losing you would be a big blow.”

Luke nods, “I want you to come with me.”

Collin nods, “Where do you want us to meet you?”

Luke shakes his head, “Not you and your guild, just you.”

Collin thins his eyes, “Why?”

Luke meets his gaze, “I want to see how you fight.”

“A test?” Collin asks.

Luke shakes his head, “Not one you can fail. I want to know how I fight with you.”

Collin nods, “And you don’t want me fighting with my team.”

Luke nods, “That’s right. So?”

Collin smiles, “I think that’s a great idea, except we need a third member. Unless you added off healing to your build.”

“There’s always potions.” Luke suggests.

Collin thins his eyes, “Luke, you are great at the game, but you’re still playing like you can respawn if you die.”

Luke sighs, “I guess I am.”

Collin grins, “So I’m gonna get Kwame.”

Luke raises an eyebrow, “Kwame?”

“He’s Tyrone’s brother. I think you met him already. He has a stealth healer build,” Collin responds.

Luke nods, “I know. I’m just wondering why Kwame? Isn’t Gabriel the better healer?”

Collin nods, “We don’t need a great healer. What we need is a healer who won’t interfere with our teamwork when they aren’t healing.”

Luke’s eyes widen in realization, “Oh. So you don’t intend for this to be a three man run. You just want someone around who can bail us out.”

Collin nods, “We can’t afford to lose either of us, but we can’t just stand around being afraid to take risks either. We have to be smart about things.”

Luke starts heading towards the door, “Right. I’m gonna pull from the gatcha and buy some supplies. Meet you at the cave entrance safe zone in an hour?”

Collin nods, “I’ll get Kwame and meet you there.”

Luke thinks about Kwame as he leaves. He liked the kid, and contrary to how Tyrone described him, every time he’s seen Kwame he’s been quite level headed. Like Collin was saying, they’ve gotta take smart risks. That seems to be what Kwame does.

When Luke reaches the gatcha he isn’t really paying much attention. He’s doing it once a day on principle, not really expecting to get anything good. That’s when he sees the unfamiliar golden glow of a rare item. When that rare item is a Swordbreaker, his eyes widen in surprise. It’s special ability to reflect parried damage is crazy good for him. He knows how he’s going to spend the next hour now.

Some Time Later

Luke isn’t sure how long he’s been at the safe zone when Kwame and Collin arrive, but he’d finished replacing his knife with the Swordbreaker in all his menus and started theorycrafting around how having it might change his overall build. He waves them over when he sees them appear from the teleporter.

Kwame surprises him by looking up at him sheepishly, “Hey! Wow. Never thought Tall&Zxy and GoldenrodBoy would hit me for a healer.”

Luke looks at Kwame sternly, “Please call me Luke.”

“Okay dude.” Kwame raises an eyebrow at him, “What’s eatin’ ya?”

Luke sighs, “Nothing.”

Kwame shrugs, “Oh well. Nonamy business anyway.”

Luke raises his eyebrows at him, “You seem different.”

Kwame looks down, “I dunno. I’m kinda in awe. You are like, the best of the best, and you picked me.”

Collin puts a hand on his shoulder, “You’re who we needed. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Kwame laughs, “Really dude? Way to ruin the mood.”

Luke shakes his head, but he can’t help but be amused at the younger man, “You’re insurance.”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “So you want me to stealth around and heal you if things go to shit?”

Collin nods, “Basically.”

“So, if things go well, I’ll just be watchin’ you guys fight all afternoon?” Kwame asks.

Luke nods, “Yeah.”

Kwame grins, “Sounds pretty awesome. I’m totally in.”

Collin laughs, “Where’s all the modesty gone?”

Kwame laughs sheepishly, “It’s still there. It’s kinda always there. I’m just good at hiding it.”

Luke raises an eyebrow at him, “Hey, you planning to join a guild?”

Kwame thinks for a moment, “Prolly, why?”

“I can’t join a guild but I don’t wanna go it alone. I could use a partner.” Luke says.

“What about Collin?” Kwame asks.

Luke shakes his head, “Collin’s got a guild.”

Kwame looks down, “But dude. There’s gotta be someone better’n me.”

Collin raises an eyebrow, “Maybe that’s better. You’re an awesome asset Kwame. You’re good at what you do, and what you do is unique. You pair well with Luke and the two of you slot into essentially any team. And with Luke’s help, you’ll go from good at what you do to becoming a top player.”

Kwame grins, “Ya think I’ve got that much potential?”

Luke stands up, “No better time to find out.”

Collin grins, “Agreed.”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Didn’t you want me to stick back? Some kinda insurance?”

Collin nods, “We’ll need you. For the boss if nothing else.”

Kwame nods, “Gotcha.”

Luke tosses each of them some consumables, “I’ll take point.”

Collin nods, “Your build is better for that than mine.”

Kwame steps up, “I’ll be all stealthy like.”

Collin grins, “Ready to go?”

Luke nods, “I’m ready.”

Kwame smirks, “This is gonna be awesome.”

Luke half smiles. Kwame reminds him of better times before puberty caused Asa to pull into a shell, “I’ll take that as a yes.”

The short walk from the grove of trees to the cave is uneventful, and when they reach the entrance, Collin takes them to a safe zone in a small crystalline inset. “Are there any final preparations any of us need to do before we enter? Any buffs you want to set?” Luke shakes his head in response.

“Nope,” Kwame says.

Collin nods, “And do we want this to be a private instance?”

Kwame shrugs, “No clue. This is your gig.”

Luke thinks for a moment, “I think so.”

Collin nods again, “The three of us should be able to handle it.”

“I got you covered.” Kwame says.

Collin looks at him, “Covered?”

Kwame grins, “Bought a teleport rune. Figured you might need it.”

Luke nods, “We might.”

Collin shakes his head, “So, are we really ready this time?” Luke and Kwame nod in response.

Luke enters the dungeon and when the menu pops up he notes that the options are public, solo, party and guild. The solo option is new. He checks to make sure that Kwame and Collin haven’t been dropped from his party somehow and then selects party.

When he steps into the instance, the light purple to violet hues of the cave look beautiful and Luke thinks about what Asa said. He takes a moment to take in the beauty of the area. Whoever rendered this did an excellent job. The different hues of purple combine to form a kind of mystique he appreciates. “It’s beautiful.”

Kwame nods, “It’s pretty fucking awesome looking, yeah.”

Collin also nods, “There’s so much detail. And the way the light reflects off the crystal is so real. The shadowing, man. Someone put a lot of effort into this.”

Luke steps forward, “Shall we?” Collin draws his weapons while Kwame slips into the shadows.

The cave is linear, the only randomly generated parts being a few off shoots, so they move forward slowly but casually. The few mobs they run into on the path are simple Goblins that they defeat with little fuss.

As they approach the first room, however, Luke moves to the wall. “Kwame. What’s up ahead?”

Kwame returns in a moment, “Four elite goblins. No biggie, but not the small fry you’ve blasted so far.”

Collin nods, “Shouldn’t be an issue should it?”

Luke shakes his head, “No.” He turns to Kwame, “Thank you.”

Kwame laughs, “Ah shucks! You don’t have to thank me!”

Collin’s smile is knowing, “Would you, by any chance, be blushing right now if you could?”

Kwame grins, “Here with two of the best players? And two of the hottest guys? Of course I’d be fucking blushing.”

Luke turns to him, “You’re gay?”

Kwame shrugs, “Yeah. Gonna make something of it?”

Collin shrugs, “I’m bi. And Asa told me you’ve known he’s gay for ages.”

Luke nods, “Yeah. I’ve never known what to think of that to be honest.”

Kwame thins his eyes at him, “Meaning?”

Luke sighs, “I never had a problem with it, but I don’t really understand it either.”

Kwame’s expression instantly softens and he shrugs, “What’s to understand? Dick makes me hard. Breasts don’t.”

Collin nods, “It really can be that simple Luke. Sexuality doesn’t have to be about anything else.”

Luke nods, “I know, it’s just. I dunno.”

Kwame slaps Luke’s shoulder, “Let’s go slaughter us some gobbies. We can tease our token straight later.”

Luke sighs, but smiles sheepishly, “Thanks.”

Collin draws his spear, “Let’s go.”

They approach the room slowly, not wanting to accidentally step across the threshold. At the entrance, Luke checks out the room. “They’re haphazardly placed.”

Collin nods, “If you were to charge the closest one, I’d likely take it out before it got a chance to attack you. Three on two would be much better odds, especially if we stand back to back.”

Luke nods, “That sounds good. We should be able to take out a second one if we’re quick.”

“Then it’d be one on one.” Collin says, “But that’s still better odds for you than for me.”

Luke turns to him, “As long as you can keep one busy, I can take them both.”

Collin nods, “That’s easy enough.”

“So I just stay here?” Kwame asks.

“Whatever you think is best.” Collin responds.

Kwame looks down, “Whatever I think is best?”

Luke nods, “Yeah. Whatever gives you the best chance of jumping in.”

Kwame sighs, “Okay. Whatever you say.”

“There is such a thing as too much humility.” Collin puts a supportive hand on Kwame’s shoulder, “Have some confidence, even if you have to pretend.”

Kwame puts a grin on his face, “Got it.”

Luke smiles, “That’s better.”

The nearest goblin turns around to start pacing away from them, and Luke springs into action. He charges in and uses slash fury, equipping a sword and dealing almost three quarters of the goblin’s HP. The other three goblins have started moving in their direction, but a bolt blasts the goblin in front of Luke, defeating it.

Luke charges the next closest goblin, but without the blindside, swipe twice only does around a quarter of its HP. Luke is surprised when Bolt does more damage than his sword enhanced swipe twice, but he still parries the incoming attack. He slashes down and does another ten percent or so before backing off to sidestep away from the incoming goblins.

A chain lightning spell suddenly hits the goblin he’s facing and then jumps to the two other ones, dealing another rather large chunk of damage to the goblin in front of him. He uses another couple knife speed sword attacks to get the goblin in the red before another goblin tries to attack his flank. Another Bolt finishes off the goblin in critical, but the last goblin immediately takes it’s place.

Luke uses his flash step to put himself in line with the two goblins so they can only approach him from one direction. That’s when Collin steps up next to him and lunges his spear into one of them. Luke equips the sword to have a similar reach to Collin and engages the other goblin. It takes a few more parries and strikes but the goblin goes down.

“Collin, your taking too much damage!” Luke says.

Collin responds by stepping behind him. Luke parries the goblin’s attack with his swordbreaker, dealing some damage back, before a glyph appears beneath him, causing his HP to regenerate. Collin steps up alongside him again and the two of them finish off their last foe.

Luke turns to Collin as he lets the glyph run its course. “You’re doing a lot of damage.”

Collin grins back, “I know! It’s working so much better than I thought it would.”

Luke raises an eyebrow, “It?”

Collin grins, “My build! So, I rolled a 50% bonus to lighting damage and attacks. And I was thinking, ‘there has to be a way I can break this!’ So I started theorycrafting about lightning and testing what it actually does. And I found that the bonus is to the lightning keyword, not just the elemental. So it affects all lightning elemental damage, or any lightning attacks or spells. And that’s the kicker, if you use shadow spells to make lightning spells do type-less damage, the ability still affects them!”

Luke’s eye widen, “Wait really? But 50% is more than most weakness boosts!”

Collin nods, “Yep. And this stacks on top of them!”

“Wait, what do you mean?” Kwame asks.

“It means it stacks on top of weakness boosts. And not additively.” Collin says.

Luke shakes his head and whistles, an amused smile on his face, “Man. That’s crazy.”

Collin nods and continues gushing, “My current build is really just using the skill to stack on top of lightning spells. I don’t have shadowshift yet, since elemental resistances don’t really crop up until later, and I’m currently working on a more important part of my build.”

Luke raises an eyebrow, “What could be more important than shadowshift?”

Collin lifts his spear, “Getting javelin skill, so I can get Lightning Rod skill ranks.”

Luke’s eye’s widen again, “Lightning Rod? The lodge skill?”

Collin nods, “The very same.”

“Lodge skill?” Kwame asks.

Luke turns to him, “Collin’s using one.”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Don’t lodge skills suck?”

Collin shakes his head, “A lot of player’s think they do, because you can’t equip a new weapon, but when you think about it, lodging a weakness into a target is doing the same thing as boosting your damage, and most lodge skills have the added bonus of ignoring other resistances, like physical or magical resistance. Sure, damage boosters are better on groups, but they also cap a lot lower than lodge skills, so on a single enemy, lodge skills can be extremely powerful.”

“You gonna get a lightning booster weapon?” Luke asks.

Collin shrugs, “If I find one, but lightning is better a focused fire anyway, so I’ll probably get more out of sniping enemies one at a time than trying to abuse chain lightning. Don’t get me wrong, chain lightning abuse can be really good, but there are few places where you wouldn’t be better off just casting inferno or blizzard, especially since getting chain lightning to be that effective takes a much larger portion of your build. I’ll get the spells for some low key crowd control, but I’d rather put more into the amazing support options lightning has and leave crowd control to other players with more suitable builds.”

Kwame lets out an impressed whistle, “Wow. Just wow.”

Collin raises an eyebrow, “What?”

Kwame grins, “Just, the brilliance man! So much thought!”

Now it’s Collin who looks sheepish, “Thank you.”

Luke sees Collin in a new light. Luke had heard of GoldenrodBoy of course, and vaguely knew that he was considered a top player, but he’d always thought skill was a larger factor than build, so he hadn’t ever paid much attention to him before.

He’s beginning to think that was shortsighted. Collin has made a build that seems incredibly effective, but has little to no skill required. Throw a javelin and lodge lightning rod, then cast lightning spells. And even better, the use of lightning rod would boost lightning elemental attacks from other players. A benefit that most top players realize about lightning rod and similar skills that many others overlook. While in theory, anyone could execute the build, in a way, that’s part of the beauty of it.

Luke decides to talk to Collin about his build at some point, but that’ll have to wait until after they’ve completed the dungeon, “Shall we go?”

“Ready cap’n!” Kwame says.

“Partner.” Luke says.

Collin nods, “Don’t forget mentor.”

Kwame sighs sheepishly, “Aw shucks.”

Luke thinks for a moment, “I’m not your captain or your protector.” He takes a deep breath, “Sorry, I’m not very good at this.” He takes a moment to get his bearings, “Thinking like that’s where I went wrong with Asa. I need a partner who can protect me. For the times when I can’t do it myself.”

Kwame steps up to him, “Whoa. I… dunno what to say.”

Collin grins, “Then don’t say anything. Just do what he asks.”

Kwame smiles, “Alright cap’n.”

Luke sighs, “I’m never losing that nickname am I?”

Kwame grins, “Nope.”

Luke lets out a huge guffaw in response, “Sure skipper.”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Skipper?”

Luke grins, “If I’m the cap’n, you’re the skipper.”

Kwame grins back, “Now you’re getting it!”

Collin laughs, “We really should go.” They both nod in response.

They continue at a casual pace until they reach an offshoot. At the end of the offshoot, they find a chest.

The three of them stare at it. “I wonder if its trapped?” Luke asks.

“I wonder if traps are even implemented?” Collin asks.

Kwame shrugs, “Dude, you think they’d create a death game and not implement traps?”

Collin thinks for a moment, “That is unlikely.”

Luke turns to them, “It comes down to this. We open the chest, or we don’t.”

Kwame shakes his head, “We open it. Chests have awesome loot!”

Collin nods, “And we can’t expect to get very far if we don’t get it.”

“How durable are you?” Luke asks Kwame.

“You want me to open it?” Kwame asks.

Collin thinks, “There is some logic to that. He isn’t doing the fighting, and he can get out of here the safest. There shouldn’t be really dangerous traps yet, at least there weren’t before.”

Kwame nods, “Sometimes you just gotta leap.”

He walks over to the chest and taps it. “That’s a bad sign.”

“Bad sign?” Luke asks.

“It’s asking if I wanna open it,” Kwame answers.

Collin nods, “Having second thoughts?”

Kwame sighs, “Well past second dude.”

Luke walks over and taps the chest himself and then selects open. The chest opens and Luke gets a Long Sword. “Long sword.” Luke says.

Collin raises an eyebrow, “Does it at least have an ability?”

Luke taps the description, “Fire boost.”

Kwame looks down, “I’m sorry.”

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

Kwame sighs, “But-”

Luke turns to him, “You’d heal me if it blew up right?”

Kwame nods, “Duh, but...”

Luke grins, “Then what’s wrong?”

Kwame sighs, “Does anything scare you?”

Luke shakes his head, “I’ve always been afraid, ever since I was a little kid. I usually did the thing I was afraid of anyway.”

Kwame shakes his head, “And succeeded right?”

Luke laughs, “Loads of bumps, bruises and failures too.”

Kwame looks at him, “You’re fronting, aren’t you? All that stiff faced bravado is fake?”

Luke grins, “So now there’s two.”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Two?”

Collin grins, “Two people who can see through his bull shit.” He turns to Luke, “For the record, I’ve been able to see through your bull shit for a while too, I just saw not point in calling you on it.”

“Okay, three then.” Luke nods.

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “I dunno. It might have been bull shit at some point, but now I think it’s just genuine courage.”

Collin nods, “I have to agree.”

Luke shakes his head, “No. It’s not. I’m not afraid of dying in game. I never have been. Sure, I know that if I die I probably don’t come back, but I still don’t fear it and I’m not sure I ever will.” Luke turns to them, “What I really fear is being alone.”

Kwame raises an incredulous eyebrow, “For a guy afraid of being alone, you sure keep pushing people away.”

Collin stands up, “He doesn’t want people. He wants what he had with Asa.”

Luke shakes his head, “No. I mean, I do want to have something with Asa, but it’s not what I had. With Asa, I was a protector and he was my ward. Even when he didn’t need my protection, or I really needed his.” Luke grips his knife tightly, “What I want, what I need, is an equal. Just one equal.”

“Just one?” Kwame asks.

Luke shrugs, “Well, maybe more, but just one is good enough for now.”

Kwame shakes his head, still incredulous, “And that’s me?”

Collin grins, “Why not? He said it himself, he and Asa fell into those roles. You may be in awe of him, but you’ll still call him on his bull shit, and that’s what he wants.”

“Yeah. I guess. But I can’t back it up.” Kwame responds.

Luke shakes his head, “Worried I’ll get angry and kill you some day?”

Kwame thins his eyes, “Thought did occur.”

Luke turns to him, “I won’t, because I know I could.”

“What? That makes no fucking sense!” Kwame yells.

Collin raises an eyebrow, “I… think I understand.”

Luke nods, “It would prove nothing. But you standing up to me? That’s real courage. That proves something.”

Kwame shakes his head, “Naw. That’s the bull shit talking.”

Luke grins, “It is isn’t it? See? This is why I need you.”

Collin laughs, “And now that both of you have stopped sulking, shall we go?” Luke nods in response.

“Sure!” Kwame says, and the three of them turn and walk back up the tunnel.

The second room is suspiciously empty when they enter it, “Someone upped the stealthy.” Kwame says as he looks around, “Luke, you got perception right?”

Luke nods, “Not enough to just see whatever’s there.”

“Assuming something is there,” Collin says.

Kwame raises his eyebrow, “Dude, really?”

Collin shakes his head, “Don’t get me wrong, I think something is there. But that doesn’t mean we’re right.”

Luke nods, “There is something there, but its stealth is immense.” He then makes is map visible to the rest of them, “See those dots?”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “...I don’t think that’s stealth.”

Luke’s eyes widen, “Right! They could just be in a concealed area.”

Collin thinks for a moment, “But the room is empty… unless...” He looks up, “That’s gotta be what it is. I can’t see a ceiling, only darkness.”

“I can’t think of any goblins who can cling to ceilings.” Luke says, “Especially not at our power level.”

Collin thinks for a moment, “It could be a new kind of enemy. We know the temple raid boss is new, we can assume they added other new stuff as well.”

“Maybe we’re over thinkin’ this.” Kwame muses, “Weren’t there spiders here before?”

“That’s right, there were.” Luke remembers.

Collin nods, “It’s true. We didn’t run into any so I’d forgotten.”

“Did anyone prepare for poison?” Kwame asks.

Luke nods, “I always keep antidotes on me.”

Collin shakes his head, “I’m pretty bad about ailments to be honest.”

Kwame nods, “Normally I don’t fight, so...”

“So, my stock of antidotes is our only out to poison?” Luke asks.

Collin shakes his head, “I’m gonna stock up on ailment restoration as soon as we get back to town.”

Luke thinks for a moment, “Should we fight?”

“Are you crazy?” Kwame asks.

Collin raises an eyebrow, “What are you thinking?”

“We could end up in this situation again. We should practice avoiding ailments. The poison here is really weak, 1 or 2 damage a second right?” Luke asks.

“Unless they changed it.” Collin notes.

Luke shakes his head, “Things have been balanced so far.”

Collin thinks, “We should prepare to escape if we need to though. No risks.”

Luke nods, “Agreed.”

“Luke, give me the antidotes.” Kwame says, “That way you can concentrate on kicking ass.”

Collin nods, “That’s a good idea.” Luke nods and complies.

“Are we ready?” Luke asks. Collin and Kwame nod so they enter the chamber.

Rather than moving across the middle, they take the longer route sidling around the edge to keep their blindsides facing the wall. When they are about halfway through six large spiders drop from the ceiling at various points in the room, though only the one closest to them reacts to their presence.

As it turns towards them, Collin casts a quick bolt. The spider turns out to have much fewer HP than the goblins and the bolt does more than half of its health. Luke moves forward for the killing blow, but finds his attack deals around a third of the damage he was doing earlier.

“This spider is elite.” Luke says as he parries the spider’s bite.

Collin nods, “That doesn’t surprise me.” He steps back and let’s Luke hit it the few more times it takes to defeat it.

Luke smiles, “Still easy to parry.”

The other five spiders don’t seem to be paying them any mind. “I bet they’re programmed to surround people in the center.” Collin says.

Luke nods, “Probably.”

Kwame thinks for a moment, “Ya think a bonus room spawned?”

Collin’s eye’s widen, “You know… I bet Kwame’s right. This probably is a bonus room!”

Luke smiles, “Then we should clear it.”

Collin nods, “It seems to be designed to be pretty easy. Sure, if you get ambushed it could be a problem, but I’m guessing the spiders were specifically programmed not to follow you once you leave the general area.

Luke nods, “They aren’t paying us any mind.”

Kwame grins, “So, just be careful. Hit them one at a time.”

Collin nods, “I’ll draw them out with bolt while you concentrate on parrying. Just keep it busy until my cooldown fades. No reason to risk you getting poisoned. Magic does way more damage anyway.”

Luke nods, “Yeah. I can tank.”

The next two go easily. They sidle towards it around the wall, wait until it is at the furthest point from the other spiders in the room and then Luke takes a swing at it, no sword equip this time, as he wants to have his knife at the ready to parry.

After the spider is in melee with Luke, Collin stands behind it and shoots it with bolt followed by spark cannon. The two spells in combination defeat it. After that Kwame heals Luke while they wait for Collin’s spell cool.

The fourth spider, on the other hand, does something unexpected. When Collin casts bolt on it, it responds by casting spark cannon, hitting Luke for a good amount of damage. Collin manages to get out of the way, but the commotion also gets the attention of the other two spiders, which also cast spark cannon.

They are far enough away that avoiding the spells isn’t that difficult, but it makes it more difficult for Luke to keep the nearby spider busy. And hitting it with bolt or spark cannon just causes it to use spark cannon again.

In the end, Luke defeats the spider by using the sword breaker to reflect enough damage to defeat it while Kwame heals him. Collin defeats the other two spiders by alternating between bolt and spark cannon to keep them from casting on Luke. His damage is such that he manages to defeat the two in about the same amount of time as it takes Luke to defeat the one he’s parrying, but his MP is significantly drained.

When the last spider goes down, Collin and Luke look at each other and find wide grins. “That was exhilarating!” Collin says.

Luke nods back, “Yeah!” He walks to the gold chest that appears in the middle of the room.

“Na ah! You ain’t opening that!” Kwame says, “You guys just beat the crap out of a bunch of spiders. I’ll see what we got.”

Luke nods, “Go for it.”

Kwame sighs when the chest isn’t trapped and he grins at what he finds, “Dude! It had a prism boost soul orb in it!”

Luke grins, “Always clear rooms, check.”

Collin nods, “Keep that safe Kwame. We’ll give it to Ben and Theo, so we can make sure someone who wants it for their build gets it.”

Kwame grins back in response, “Roger that!”

Moving forward is slower, since the next hallway has more unit pairs and more elite units. Eventually, they agree that Kwame being their insurance is no longer viable, and instead they should be a three man team.

The few spiders they run into prove to be the most irritating part, since some of them counter spells with spark cannon. Though Collin theorizes they counter fire or ice spells with a specific spell of that element.

At the end of the hallway is a large skin with a mosaic of symbols and patterns. “This must be the boss room.” Collin says with a raised eyebrow, “It’s more ornate than before.”

Luke looks to the side to see a smaller, less ornate skin. He walks over to it and looks inside, “Safe room.”

Kwame pulls them both into the safe room, “Guys, you suck at this.”

Collin raises an eyebrow at him, “What do you mean?”

Kwame shakes his head, “Standing right in front of a safe room? You askin’ to get killed?”

Luke nods, “He has a point.”

Collin sighs, “Yeah. I’m just not used to thinking like that.”

Luke shakes his head, “We’ve gotta start.”

Collin nods, “I know.”

Kwame leans against the wall, “So whaddya wanna do? The boss is probably the goblin king. Think they weakened it? It was the Temple guardian before.”

Collin nods, “Probably. The enemies in this dungeon are about the same power they always were.”

Luke thinks for a moment, “We’re a bad team for this fight.”

Kwame nods, “Three manning it without AOEs gonna be rough.”

Collin nods, “I thought of that. The key to this fight is going to be Kwame.”

Kwame raises an eyebrow at him, “Dude, me? But I got no offense at all!”

Collin shakes his head, “That’s not true. You have high stealth, which means you automatically have high blindside damage.” He turns to Luke, “Now that you have a sword breaker, you don’t need your knife do you?”

Luke shakes his head, “No. You want me to give it to Kwame?”

Collin nods, “Unless you have a better knife Kwame?”

Kwame shakes his head, “No.”

Collin nods, “The Goblin king, at least before, starts summoning goblins at seventy five percent HP. He starts summoning elite goblins at fifty percent HP. Now the big issue is the elite goblins which have the ability to buff and lead goblins, but they don’t spawn in as great numbers.”

Luke nods, “So you want us to get it to almost seventy five percent HP, and then for Kwame to blindside it to get it to below fifty so we don’t have to worry about regular goblins at all?”

Collin nods, “After that, we’ll wait until there are two elite goblins. At that point I’ll use my scroll of chain lightning. After that, you guys should help me clean up whatever’s left.”

“Uh… I’m not sure about this...” Kwame says. “I’ve never done this before.”

Luke grins at him, “This’ll be easy. Asa and I used to do this all the time. I’ll keep his attention and maneuver him into position. You just watch his HP. When it reaches seventy five percent? Bam!”

Collin nods, “Normally, you’d have to worry about the aggro spike, but the Goblin King isn’t very powerful on his own. The entire danger of the fight comes from the minions.”

“So, what you’re saying is, if I pull this off, the fight’ll be cake?” Kwame asks.

Luke nods, “Yeah. But don’t stress. I’m pretty confident I could solo the fight, so it’s not all on your shoulders.”

Collin raises his eyebrows, “You could solo the fight?”

Luke grins, “I’ve solo’d the temple raid version before with less stats than I have now.”

Kwame shakes his head and whistles, “Man! Tall&Zxy! You really are the shitz!”

Collin nods, “Yeah.”

“So… you think you’ll be able to solo it now?” Kwame asks.

Luke shakes his head, “We’re not gonna find out. I’m not gonna solo a boss when I can’t die.”

Collin nods, “He’s just saying that, if push comes to shove, he can take the forefront and leave us to crowd clearing duty.”

Luke shakes his head, “Actually, I’d prefer Kwame on healing duty.”

Collin nods, “That’s fair.”

Kwame equips the knife, “So...”

“Just stab. The attack assister will do the work for you,” Luke says.

Kwame raises his eyebrows, “You’re not serious.”

Luke grins, “I’m right handed.”

“What!? But you fight with your left hand!” Kwame exclaims.

Luke nods, “The attack assister does the fighting. Main hand has to do the menu work.”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Ya think I should learn it?”

Luke raises an eyebrow, “Spiral mastery?” Kwame nods. Luke shakes his head, “Not if you don’t want to. Spiral mastery is just one route. Look at Collin.”

Collin grins at Luke knowingly, “Ah, so you do respect me now?”

Luke looks down sheepishly, “I never disrespected you.”

Collin laughs, “But you used to think skill was everything. You rarely posted, but when you did? It was always to talk up how skill can make up for a bad build but a good build can always be made better with it.”

Luke scratches the back of his head, “I was a douche wasn’t I?”

Collin shrugs, “A bit. You weren’t wrong exactly. You just had a very narrow definition of skill.”

Luke sighs, “I’m learning I had a narrow view of a lot of things.”

Kwame laughs, “Dude. That’s what being a teenager is all about.”

“I’m nineteen.” Luke says.

Kwame grins, “Still a teen. Now if you were twenty, then we’d have to shoot you.”

Collin shakes his head, “You know there isn’t a big difference between being nineteen and being twenty right?”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “How old are you?”

Collin shrugs, “Twenty one.”

Kwame grins, “Man! If we weren’t stuck in here I’d be braggin’ about hanging out with two studly college guys!”

Collin laughs, “Hear that Luke?”

Luke grins, “I can live with being studly.”

Kwame nods, “So cap’n, we ready to kick some Goblin King ass?”

Luke nods, “Yep!”

Collin stands up, “I should probably point out now that if it isn’t the Goblin King, we should probably retreat and call it a night.”

“Yeppers.” Kwame responds.

Luke nods, “Definitely.”

A moment later they are standing in front of the boss chamber. “Are we ready?” Collin asks.

Luke nods, “I’m ready.”

Kwame grins, “Let’s kick some ass.”

Luke pulls the skin to the side revealing solid black. He steps into the darkness and the room takes shape before him. Though he’s pretty sure the shape of the room won’t have much effect on the battle, he notes that the room is completely different from the hexagonal room the Goblin King was in in the Temple. This room has rough cave like walls, but is essentially square shaped, with the entrance in one corner.

The Goblin King himself stands slightly past the center of the room and stares at them. “He’s not doing anything.” Kwame says under his breath.

“The old boss of the crystal cave didn’t do anything either, until it took damage or you crossed the center of the room.” Luke says.

Kwame nods, “I know. It’s just… dude. Seein’ the fucking Goblin King just sittin’ there is weird.”

Collin shakes his head, “If he’s anything like the other first boss, he’ll start his AI script if we wait ten minutes.”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “Ten whole minutes?”

Collin nods, “Yeah. But we’re not gonna wait that long are we?”

Luke readies his swordbreaker, “No. We’re not.”

With that, he charges towards the Goblin King. Its eerie how the Goblin King seems to be watching him and yet isn’t reacting to his presence at all. Even for the game, this is atypical, and Luke has to remind himself that everything here is a program.

Those thoughts fly from his head when the Goblin King reacts to him crossing the halfway point of the room. That’s when the first difference from the old battle happens: the Goblin King yells out and two Goblin Mages appear.

He worries they screwed up for a moment but it doesn’t summon anymore. Its HP threshold scripts are clearly different, the question is how. The old scripts were a raid, so even if they were doable by most parties with a little planning, they were meant for a large number of players. He doesn’t have time to ponder this as he avoids a fireball from one of the Mages.

Luke isn’t surprised when the Goblin King walks away, but he knows better than to charge after it. He’s happy he didn’t when he notices that the King casting a spell. The spell has a fire aura, and Luke is about to yell incoming except that nothing happens. He realizes the King isn’t dropping AOEs, he’s laying traps.

That’s when it hits him, the Mages with fireball. The King running around laying traps, “They’re trying to create a trap web!” He yells as he enlarges his mini map. He sighs in relief when he sees his perception is high enough to see where the King’s traps are.

Collin’s eye widen, “You’re probably right!” He thinks for a moment, “I think the King is going to run around laying traps and then pass the web to one of the two mages who will activate it.”

“The fuck? First boss uses trap webs?” Kwame yells.

“We’ll discuss it later.” Collin says as he charges one of the Mages.

“Don’t kill both mages.” Luke says.

Collin nods, “Just gonna kill one.”

“Why not? I thought you said they’d trigger the web?” Kwame asks.

“It’ll have a script for that. Probably make things worse.” Luke answers. He reaches the king a moment later and strikes out with a few knife sword swap attacks, trying to get its attention. “Kwame, get behind it!”

“Really?” Kwame asks.

“Same plan should work. Our best bet is to end it quick.” Luke responds.

With Luke and Kwame engaging the king, Collin strikes the final blow against the mage he’s fighting. Then he moves to engage the other mage. But rather than dealing damage, he concentrates on disrupting its spells.

Collin and Luke continue to engage their foes while Kwame tries to stay in position behind the King, throwing a heal at one of the other two every so often.

“Get ready.” Luke says.

Kwame has been watching its health and he’s already got the knife at the ready, but he’s nervous. He’s never really done anything like this before. But when Luke says, “Now!” he finds what Luke said to be entirely true. When he just lets the attack assister take over, the knife moves effortlessly into the King’s blindside.

Kwame’s eyes widen when he realizes he didn’t do enough damage. He was supposed to do twenty five percent of its life, but he did closer to fifteen. It is a big enough spike to get the King’s attention, however, and Kwame’s eye’s widen as the king turns to face him.

Suddenly the king takes around thirty percent of its life and turns around again. Not seeing anything better to do, Kwame blindsides it again. This time his attack isn’t enough to get its attention, so he blindsides it a second time and then watches as it disappears.

Collin finishes off the mage he was fighting after he sees its the only enemy remaining.

The results are somewhat anticlimactic. Aside of the drop list being longer, it’s exactly the same as any other battle victory prompt.

Collin raises an eyebrow, “So, what now? Do we take what’s good for our build? Or do we give it to Ben and Theo and let them decide?”

Luke and Kwame think for a moment. “Ben and Theo.” Luke says definitively.

Kwame nods, “Yeah. We gotta start this right, or people will start to fight over shit.”

Collin nods, “That’s what I thought, I just wanted to make sure.”

Kwame smiles, “Legit.”

Luke nods, “Agreed.”

“I have the orb and sword, I’ll take stuff to them.” Kwame says.

Luke smiles at him, “I’ll go with you.”

Kwame shakes his head, but he’s grinning, “Worried I’ll take it for myself?”

Luke laughs, “Naw, but if we’re gonna be partners, we gotta stick together.”

Kwame nods, “I can live with that.”

While they give Kwame the loot, Kwame speaks, “That was weird. The Goblin King didn’t summon anything.”

Collin grins, “I suspected it wouldn’t.”

Luke nods, “Me too.”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “But isn’t that like… its thing?”

“It was its thing, but this is really a totally different boss. It’s trap based, and the boss of the beginner dungeon. I suspect it still summons on the seventy five, fifty and twenty five HP thresholds, but only if its mages are gone.” Collin answers.

“Right.” Kwame shakes his head, “That was a cinch!”

Collin nods, “The old boss wasn’t that hard either. And you have to remember, we all had six hours of play with an immense boost to our soul energy gains that most of us spent entirely grinding. We may be low powered for the Temple, but there are two more dungeons we’re supposed to do before that.”

“Right.” Kwame says, then turns to Luke, “And fuck! How did you do that?”

“Do what?” Luke asks.

“That super fucking damage hit!” Kwame says.

Luke shrugs, “Exploit.”

Kwame raises his eyebrow, “Exploit? I thought it was bad?”

Collin grins, “Nope. It’s pretty great.”

“I’m gonna haveta relearn everythin’ I know about what’s good aren’t I?” Kwame asks.

Collin nods, “Probably, but for the record, people think it sucks because of it’s niche usage and large cooldown. In most cases, it doesn’t increase your average DPS when compared to other skills that one might put the orb into, and it’s harder to use since it requires you to critically hit or blindside with it to really be worth it. Exploit damage also is considered skill damage, so it doesn’t stack with the stealth bonus to blindside damage, unless you get the skill that makes it stack with skill modifiers, and even then Exploit only multiplies the base blindside extra damage. In short, Exploit is not a good skill for anyone who actually intends to use skill damage or blindside as their main form of attack, which makes people erroneously think it’s bad.

“But for a high strength character who doesn’t have a lot of stealth but who fights on a team where they incidentally end up in position to blindside it’s a skill that can deal a huge amount of damage with little fuss. And if you’re a spiral master, it becomes brutal, since you can combine the knife blindside damage bonus with a much more powerful weapon.” Collin says.

Kwame raises his eyebrows, “But I thought changing weapons didn’t work like that?”

Luke nods, “With normal attacks, it doesn’t. Weapon specific skills keep their weapon category, even if you equip a different weapon after activation.”

Collin grins, “And consider who Luke’s partner used to be? Asa often blindsides and his damage spikes are immense. I’m betting Luke doesn’t have Exploit for damage really, but rather to draw aggro back to him.”

Luke smiles, “It’s also for damage.”

Collin shakes his head, “It’s funny, you know? I’ve grown to appreciate a lot of skills I never considered using before.”

Kwame nods, “It’s different here. When your life is on the line.”

Luke thinks for a moment, “I wonder.”

Collin looks at him, “What?”

Luke turns to them, “Our lives. Is whoever is doing this willing to commit murder?”

Collin sighs, “We have to assume they are, right?”

“Fuck dude,” Kwame answers, “do we really have to go there?”

Luke nods, “Yes. If they are, then dying here means death.”

Collin raises an eyebrow, “Perhaps, but there’s not much point in worrying about it. Sure, if death means death, then we know we can’t die. But even if death doesn’t mean death, it doesn’t necessarily mean returning to the real world either, so we shouldn’t risk it regardless.”

Luke sighs, “I wonder what Asa thinks about this?”

Kwame shrugs, “Why don’t you ask him?”

Luke shakes his head, “Because it doesn’t matter.”

Collin raises an eyebrow, “You don’t think it matters?”

Luke shrugs, “It’s speculation. Our options are to play the game, or not play the game. Since we’ve decided to play, we’ve decided to not die.”

“What about answers dude?” Kwame asks.

“Nothing we can do will get them.” Luke responds.

Collin sighs, “I hate to say it, but Luke’s right.” He looks over to the back of the room to see the familiar blue exist teleporter, “Looks like exit teleporters are still a thing.”

Luke puts a hand on Kwame’s shoulder, “For the record? It was good.”

Kwame raises an eyebrow, “It?”

Luke grins, “Being the token straight.”

Kwame elbows him, “Then ya don’t mind if I take a peek now and then?”

Luke laughs, “Never minded when Asa did it.”

Kwame and Luke approach the teleporter. “You know dude? I coulda done a lot worse.” Kwame says.

Collin shakes his head, “We all could have. And I don’t just mean the three of us. I mean all of us. Luke, Asa, Ardine, me, heck, even you Kwame. We got a lot of good players here, and we’ll need them, because we’ve decided to take the hard road. I think it’s the right thing to do, the best thing in the long run, but staying in our rooms at the lodge would be the safest course of action.”

Kwame sticks his tongue out, “What kinda life would that be?”

Collin activates the teleporter, “Not a very good one.” He grins, “Hey! We can use this to teleport to town now!”

Luke smiles, “That’s convenient.”

Kwame grins, “So we goin’?”

Collin nods, “You know, I did this just to test how I worked with Luke, but I think the better thing that came out of it was the two of you.”

Kwame looks up at Luke, “Yeah. I feel a lot better.”

Luke nods, “I do to.”

Collin smiles, “I’m headed out. Make sure Ben and Theo get that stuff.”

Kwame nods, “Will do.” Collin disappears.

“Let’s go?” Luke asks.

“You betcha.” Kwame answers and the two of them teleport back to town.

Another Luke centered action chapter, but I hope it had some goodies too. As always! I hope to hear from you!

Stuff You Might Want to Know

Mechanics – Lodge Skills: Lodge skills are skill that are triggered by lodging a weapon into the target, usually by throwing it, but some skills let you to lodge with melee attacks. Lodging a weapon counts as a secondary effect and is thus negated by a parry and must deal damage through a shield block to succeed. Some monsters can only be lodged with blindsides, or require other special conditions. Lodge skills act as a debuff on the target as long as the weapon remains lodged. Lodged items take up the hand they are equipped in. That hand can be used for the spiral menu or to hold things that can normally be held while using the item. Equipping or grabbing something will end the lodge, dropping the lodged item into your inventory. The most common Lodge skills are the three elemental lodge skills, each tied to a weapon type and element, but otherwise identical in function.

Cold Front (Ice/Knife); Lightning Rod (Lighting/Spear); Fire Brand (Fire/Hand ax): These skills implant a weakness into the target to the element and keyword of the associated element provided the weapon (which must be the stated type) remains lodged within the target. Attacks of the listed types also ignore any standard resistances, such as elemental resistance or physical/magical resistance, the target might have. Other skills that limit damage work properly.

Copyright © 2020 Nightlit; All Rights Reserved.

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I really enjoyed this more action driven chapter! :)

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