Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Michael and Solitair

  "Hey Michael!"
  There it was again; the sound that signalled the beginning of lunch. He pulled out his earphones and placed them on top of his keyboard, pulling his lips into the customary smile he had practiced so much. On his laptop screen, the images kept flashing as his character lost all its health and perished to its enemies. He put his hood down.
  "Hey Cheryl," he said, trying to sound enthusiastic. He realized that he could not remember if he had saved or not.
  "I'm not bothering you am I?" she asked, head tilted to the side. He shook his own wordlessly; he didn't think he had saved. He mentally punched himself; that was an hour of grinding poured down the drain.
  "Anyway, we're going for lunch at McDonald's today. Wanna come with us?"
  He nodded. "Sure," was all he said. Was there a faster way to gain all of his items back, or was he going to have to go through the same subplot all over again? The sword had been a really good reward.
  He pushed himself up from his chair, adjusting his jacket and gesturing for Cheryl to lead the way. She beamed and obliged, leading him to her group of friends that she normally ate lunch with. They included one Jack, one Ariel and one Danson. Vaguely, he wondered if Danson had ever finished the game that Michael himself had recommended to him. It was a good one, with excellent mechanics and an immersive story, although its downfall was ultimately the poor conclusion and sometimes buggy game play.
  Again, he mentally punched himself for not saving.
  Cheryl laughed at a joke Jack made, while Jack smiled from ear to ear, looking pleased with himself. Michael looked curiously at him before turning his head away.
  As they walked down the stairway, Michael gazed out the windows, catching the sunlight on his cheek and observing the numerous students playing on the grassy lawns. There was so much space for them that he saw two simultaneous Frisbee games happening at once.
  "There you go, staring out the window and spacing out again." Cheryl said, her frown bringing him back to reality. "Honestly, talk to us, we're right here! Those people are so far away, yet you look as though you'd rather be conversing with them," she huffed. Michael could tell from her face that she was halfway between amusement and frustration. It was a funny face.
  "I was just thinking," he lied. Or was it really lying? He was absorbing the world he was living in. Did that involve thinking?
  She sighed. "You know, I ask you along not so you can play games in your head. You should stop thinking about them sometimes."
  He nodded, taking her advice without a word.
  As they left the staircase, he listened to their conversations. Ariel and Danson were discussing the latest project that the teachers had assigned to the teams. It involved a lot of outfield work and effort, and they were already beginning to plan when they could do their part for it. Jack was telling more jokes that he had gleaned from friends and the internet, continuing to make Cheryl laugh and grinning whenever he succeeded. Some of his jokes were funny.
  He listened as Ariel and Danson's discussion turned to the latest episode of some popular Korean Drama. There was talk about how the antagonist had hinted at his true intentions, and Ariel thought it had a much deeper meaning to it. Danson didn't agree; he thought that the villain was just that: a villain. Michael thought about how rare villains were evil for the sake of being evil, but he said nothing.
  They ordered their food, Michael asking for a Double-cheese burger meal, with no ice in the coke. When the coke arrived, there was ice in it, but he didn't want to make a fuss. Instead, he thought about how if he had ice his character would have survived the fire traps. He chuckled to himself.
  "What are you laughing at?" Cheryl asked curiously.
  "Nothing," he replied, and stopped chuckling. She wouldn't get it anyway.
  Over lunch, the talk suddenly transitioned to gaming, and he lit up. Danson was discussing the plot from the game that Michael had recommended him. So he had played it.
  "I just don't think that the choices the main character makes are realistic to his personality," he heard Danson say.
  "I guess so," Cheryl said as she chewed on her burger.
  "Makes sense," Ariel nodded.
  "I agree," Jack said, obviously disinterested.
  Michael couldn't hold himself back. "Actually, they're completely in sync. In the first two chapters or so, they revealed how much he actually cares about others, its just that he chooses to hide it for fear that his enemies will discover his weaknesses. That's why his facial expression never changes in conversations, if you'll keep an eye on him, even though everyone else's does."
  Michael looked around at the eyes on him, and shrunk.
  "Wow, Michael, I think that's the first time I've heard you string more than ten words together!" Ariel laughed.
  "Yeah, don't run out of breath there," Jack joked.
  "Are you sure? I'm pretty sure that those scenes didn't have anything to do with the character development. Fairly certain they were just fillers. Plus, the facial expression thing could be a bug, since they're still updating it..."
  Cheryl only smiled, saying nothing.
  Michael shrugged, and said nothing, taking a gulp from his drink. He put his hood up.

  Michael set up his laptop back home, and got on Skype. Hanging up his jacket, he pulled on his headset and made himself comfortable. Most of his guild mates were online, and he entered the call to hang out with them.
  "'Sup guys."
  "You're home early, aren't you?" denzer inquired in that nasally voice of his. Michael checked denzer's game status and saw that he was hanging out in a lobby, waiting for teammates before heading into another dungeon.
  Michael smiled. "Your sense of time is non-existent, that's all, denzer."
  "You're non-existent, Soli," denzer retorted, referring to Michael by his in game name. "Hurry up and get in here. I plan on defeating ol' Dermish today, and I need another damage dealer."
  "Is that a wild Solitair?" Soli recognised the voice of his guild leader, RYOUta. It was rare to see him personally in the Skype nowadays. He was apparently very busy with his job, and he was always tired whenever Soli talked to him. "Hey RYO. Showing your face after so long... how's life been for you?"
  "Horrible as always, how do you think? It's like you like stating the obvious sometimes, Soli."
  Soli laughed without taking offense. His guild leader was always this barbed, but he never meant anything.
  "Can you hurry up, Soli? Dermish only lives for two centuries, and you're taking nearly that long," denzer whined.
  "Shut up, I'm coming. You're like a little girl," Soli bantered. He loaded up the game, signing in quickly and joining up with denzer's party. He and denzer always quested together, but there was always a cycle of different guild members that played with them. IyIsha was the regular healer, but Soli recalled that she was at camp for the rest of the week. Pity; she was one of the best healers he had ever worked with. She was fun to hang out with too.
  It was a party of five, with him and denzer on Ebony Knight and Blood Assassin respectively, boba (Soli didn't talk much with him, but he seemed like an okay guy) as the Elemental Caster, Jeeman (he was funny sometimes and annoying at others) as the Oakskin Berserker, and a Cleric of Kwan that Soli didn't recognise. It was a classic set-up, with two melee damage dealers, one distance damage dealer, one tank and one healer.
  Soli was actually quite proud of his Ebony Knight build. While the Ebony Knight was normally a decent Tank with relatively low damage output, Soli had leveled him such that he could dole out massive amounts of damage while still taking advantage of the stun based skills that normally revolved around an Ebony Knight. He had farmed for hours to find the items that would complement and improve it to new heights.
  "Who's the new kid?" Soli asked denzer. It was rare to see a Cleric of Kwan; the build was just so papery, most avoided it.
  "New guild mate. We recruited him when you went to bed last night."
  "At 4 am? Who's crazier than me?"
  "Him apparently. Also, he's in the call, and he can hear you gossiping about him."
  "Huh. Hey... uh... darth_revan? Welcome to the guild." That was such a horrible name.
  The guy had to be younger than 12. His voice was higher than Ariel's. Thinking about her made him slightly annoyed, which made him feel guilty as well. He forcefully turned his thoughts back to his new guild mate. He was halfway through speaking.
  "...excited to join you guys! I've never partied to fight Dermish before, so I hope don't burden you guys."
  Soli smiled, remembering the nervousness that he had the first time he had partied with denzer. Denzer had been in the guild for at least 6 months before him, so he was a veteran member while Soli had been nothing but a lowly recruit.
  "Listen to me and you'll be fine, kid. Let's go," Soli said, taking the lead as usual.
  The dungeon was easy in the beginning, but the difficulty scaled exponentially once the Hoard Folk started appearing. From there, it was important that the Oakskin Berserker properly use his Totems to draw their attention and make them clump, so the Elemental Caster and Shadow Assassin could use their Area of Effect attacks to easily wipe them out.
  The problems started appearing when revan (Soli was not calling him darth_revan) kept using Holy Pillar on the clusters of Hoard Folk. Holy Pillar did massive amounts of damage to enemies and healed allies in the area of effect, but did less to those that weren't undead, like the Hoard Folk. He was helping to kill them, but he should have been saving his mana to keep his teammates alive. The least he could have done was cast the Holy Pillar better so it healed both the tank and killed the enemies.
  Soli could feel his frustration building, but he said nothing.
  They finally made it to the deepest level and confronted the demon, Dermish. As they walked through the boss doors, Soli's mind envisioned himself as his character, standing with his four other party members side by side and staring into its fiery red eyes, its blazing axe hefted in its solid black arms. His blood pumped and his eyes widened. A smile of anticipation spread across his face.
  "Let's do it. Set the totems! Revan, heal Jeeman and make sure he doesn't die. Denzer, circle around and put that backstab trinket of yours to use. Keep up the pressure, boba!" He moved himself into position, next to the tank, slamming the earth with his blade repeatedly, stunning the demon over and ensuring there was enough time for his teammates to get in position. They had obeyed him promptly, letting him strike the flesh of the demon with his sword as it was distracted by the totems.
  Everything seemed to be going well, with Soli dodging in and out of the flames that periodically exuded from the ground and striking heavily where he could. He could almost feel the lifeforce of his enemy draining away.
  Suddenly, a beam of light pierced the ground. Soli felt himself being healed, but there was nothing to replenish. He was perfectly healthy, having dodged the torrents of fire so well.
  "Revan, what the hell are you doing?" he shouted.
  "Huh?" he heard his healer reply. Another pillar of light pierced the ground on top of the demon, making it scream in pain.
  "Why are you using Holy Pillar when you should be using the mana on Jeeman like I told you to?!" Even without looking, he could tell that their tank was slowly dying, increasing amounts of lacerations piling up on his bark-like skin as he absorbed hit after hit from Dermish. Another pillar of light slammed into the demon.
  "Can you STOP using Holy Pillar! Jeeman's this close to getting killed!"
  Soli's blood ran cold when he heard the response. "It's alright, I can cast it on Jeeman and Dermish!"
  He watched as revan casted the spell. He watched as the pillar of light landed on both Jeeman and Dermish, damaging Dermish and healing Jeeman slightly- oh, so slightly.
  Dermish swung his axe once more, and Jeeman's body of Oak became nothing but a husk, leaves bursting into the air, before being charred to cinders in flashes of flame.
  Immediately, Soli attempted to slam the ground once more, trying to gain enough time to put some distance between him and the demon. But he'd used all his energy for that in the beginning of the fight. He felt his Ebony Armor shatter, not designed to hold up against the augmented blades of demon beasts.
  His health bar dropped to zero.
  He watched blankly as the boss turned on denzer, then boba, and finally revan.
  QUEST FAILED played across the screen, in bright red colours, dripping blood. They weren't necessary: Soli was already seeing red.
  "ARE YOU RETARDED?!" he screamed into the microphone, slamming the table simultaneously. His mouse fell to the floor, unnoticed.
  "I literally told you to listen to me right from the BEGINNING! Do you have ears?!"
  "Calm down, dude," denzer said, "he's new, he'll learn. We can always go again."
  Soli breathed in and out, reigning himself in. "Fine. But revan, the next time I tell you to do something, you bloody listen to me. Or else, you're not gonna be in this guild for much longer." He reached down and picked his mouse off the floor. He didn't recall dropping it at all.
  "We're going to have to start from the beginning. Remember the totems when the Hoard Folk come, and to create water elementals the moment the ember lizards spawn. Keep watching Jeeman's back, denzer. Let's have a perfect run people."
  They beat Dermish under his direction.

  "Hey Michael!"
  Michael looked up from his laptop, remembering to pause this time. He had redone the quest, and his progress was saved. He executed the routine smile, removing his hood as he did so.
  "Hey, Cheryl" he said with mustered effort.
  "They're having an offer down at Subway, so we're planning on going down there today. Wanna come with?"
  He considered, seriously this time, whether he wanted to go with them or not. He remembered how Ariel had laughed at him, how Jack had made fun of him, and how Danson had dismissed his opinion. Then he remembered how Cheryl had said nothing.
  "Sure," he said, gesturing for her to lead the way.

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