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Overlord [Worm Ransack/College AU]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by MissBrainProblems, Oct 22, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: Chapter 1: Encounters
    MissBrainProblems

    MissBrainProblems Making the rounds.

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    A/N: Some ages have been changed from canon to allow all relevant characters to be at college at the same time.

    Synopsis: In an alternate Earth that is devoid of powers, parahumans, and all related phenomena, Taylor Hebert has successfully survived her education at Winslow High and enrolled at Brockton Bay State College. While the residual anxiety from being bullied at Winslow has so far kept Taylor from making any actual friends during her first year and a half at college, a chance encounter in one of the school's computer labs is about to set her university experience on its head.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    It was about five minutes to noon, and all I could think was, why the fuck is the library so loud?

    My general education math course had ended half an hour ago, and I'd spent the last twenty minutes trying to sit down and read ahead for my American Literature class. Unfortunately, this attempt had mostly been foiled by a group of what I assumed - what I hoped - were freshmen sitting towards the middle of the library's reading room, talking and laughing at a volume more appropriate for a concert than a fucking library. The student worker that was supposed to be keeping a handle on kids like them had approached them exactly once, made a feeble attempt to ask them to quiet down, before heading back to his desk and immediately focusing on his phone; while this made the freshmen chat with one another at a reasonable noise level for a little while, their volume inevitably increased again, and the student worker didn't seem like he could be assed to get them to actually shut up properly.

    It didn't help matters that one of the girls had startlingly red hair that reminded me of a certain former best friend of mine.

    With a very loud, very audible sigh, I tried to make my annoyances as clear as possible as I shoved the chair I had been sitting in back under the desk with a fair bit more force than necessary, before stomping off towards the exit to the reading room; out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the looks that the group of freshmen and the student worker were giving me, but at that point, I was having a lot of trouble giving a shit what they thought. As I made my way towards the actual library building's exit, I did my best to consider the silver lining that now, at least, I'd be able to find some place to read and eat at the same time; technically, food wasn't allowed in the library, but that hadn't seemed to stop the freshmen in the reading room from loudly chomping on chips and candy.

    I began considering my options for where I could head off to. It wasn't as if there weren't a million empty classrooms around, but I couldn't be sure how many were unlocked, and I couldn't be sure how many unlocked rooms wouldn't have a class walking in on me as I was sat alone reading my book and chowing down on a sandwich. I could maybe find some spot in a cafeteria or food court that was quiet enough to read, and a location like that had the added benefit of nobody being able to raise a fuss about me eating at the same time. My thoughts were interrupted, however, when an unfortunately familiar face suddenly appeared in front of me.

    "Hey, Taylor! Haven't seen you in a while." I suppressed a sigh, as I didn't want to hurt Greg's feelings by letting him know just how much he fucking annoyed me. It wasn't as if he was a bad guy - if anything, he had been the nicest person to me during my sentence at Winslow - but he was just so... So... "You going anywhere for lunch, Taylor? There's a new place that opened up nearby, you should come with me, I hear it's really good! I mean, unless you have a class soon, or something? But I don't think you do, do you?"

    He was just so this. I had eventually realized that Greg had some sort of... Crush, or something like that, on me. I may not have had the chance to date or do anything else with boys during high school, but I also wasn't going to relegate myself to doing that sort of stuff with Greg, either, regardless of how nice he was. Part of me figured that the boy would be as obnoxiously enthusiastic about hanging out with me even if I was a guy, though, so I took some small solace in the fact that he wasn't after me just to get in my pants, or whatever.

    With a small smile, I lied to Greg as easily as breathing. "Ah, sorry, Greg. I really have to go back to my dorm and study. I've got a test coming up in my American Lit class soon, so..."

    I held up the book that I had been reading back in the library, but Greg just tilted his head with a confused look. "But... Fall midterms were last month, I thought?"

    Shit, fuck, God damnit. I should have taken a second to consider my bullshitting some more. "Ah, well, the American Lit professor is kinda nutty, she just gives us tests whenever she feels like it, doesn't really follow standard college test schedules, or anything." Greg nodded, apparently content with that explanation.

    I was about to wave goodbye and make my way as far from Greg as possible, when the boy smiled wide and spoke enthusiastically. "That's okay, though! I can walk you back to your dorm room, if you'd like!"

    Again, shit, fuck, God damnit. My smile strained a little bit more as I nodded. I really needed to learn how to say 'no' to people. "Yeah, uhm... Sure thing, I guess. Just... Like I said, I really need to study, so I'll have to head off once I get back there, okay?"

    Greg looked a little disappointed - did he really think that I was going to invite him into my dorm room, or something? - but nodded in agreement. "Alright! That's cool with me."

    I steeled myself for the storm of words that was Greg Veder as we headed off. I barely paid any attention to him as he spoke, only picking up enough to make it look like I was listening and to respond with the appropriate "Uh huh?" and "Wow!" and "That's really cool, Greg." and "No way!" whenever it was necessary. He was talking about that "Ransack" video game again, the one that he talked about every time he accosted me like this. I hadn't ever played it myself, but that didn't seem to stop Greg from talking about it like he was convinced that I was absolutely enthralled by the topic; the game sounded interesting enough, but I felt like I had partly developed some kind of negative Pavlovian response to it by this point, where any attempt to play it would be met with flashbacks to Greg prattling on like this.

    As if sensing my increasing stress levels, my body decided to offer me an out of this situation that I was surprised that I hadn't thought of before. Looking a little sheepish, I managed to find a spot to interrupt Greg in the midst of his rambling, and said "Hey, Greg, I've really have to go use the bathroom, so I'm going to..." I pointed towards a nearby building, one that I remembered as the computer and electronics engineering department. A second later, I realized my folly, as I remembered that Greg was a software development major.

    He smiled at me and nodded, before saying "Oh, no problem, Taylor! My next class is there, anyways, so I can hang around." Again, shit, fuck, God damnit. It was as if the universe was conspiring to keep me from getting away from Greg Veder. I honestly did feel somewhat bad that I was devoting so much energy to ditching the guy, but... Fuck, he drained me every second I spent in his general vicinity. Acting like I no longer needed to use the bathroom would have been too strange, and it wouldn't make sense to tell him to not go to the building his next class was in, so I gave a weak nod and started making my way over, Greg following behind like some kind of puppy dog.

    "I'll wait out here for you, Taylor!" Of course you would, Greg. Of fucking course you would. As I entered one of the stalls in the women's bathroom, I planted my head into my hands and let out the sigh that I had been keeping in for the last ten or fifteen minutes I had been spending with Greg. I just wanted to read my God damned fucking book, but between annoying freshmen and annoying Greg Veder, it seemed like I wouldn't have the chance during today's lunch break. Heeding my body's call, though, I did my business and went to wash my hands, when I heard a voice that somehow managed to be at least equally annoying as Greg's coming from the hallway.

    "Hey, yo, Greg, my man, what's up!" It sounded like another guy around Greg's and mine age, and a deeper but still similarly young voice followed.

    "Christ, Eric, quiet down. There's classes going on here, you know?"

    Greg's voice piped up after the second person spoke. "Oh, hey Eric, hey Robbie! I'm just waiting for a friend, she's-"

    The first voice - Eric? - spoke up again. "Yo, dude, don't worry about that. I've got some sweet deets for you. As in like, leaks for the newest Ransack patch?"

    Greg's tone pitched up in excitement for a moment. "Woah, what, really?! I... Wait, no, I mean, my friend, she's gonna be worried if she comes out and sees I'm not here..." No, I won't, Greg. I really, really won't.

    I silently thanked Eric as he - albeit quite obnoxiously - continued trying to peel Greg away. "Yo, c'mon, dude. Don't you know the saying? Bros before hoes?" I rankled at that a bit, but my gratitude outweighed my annoyance. "Just c'mon, it's on my computer in my dorm."

    Eric's voice started to grow distant, as did Greg's when he spoke up again. "Eric, c'mon, I really gotta..."

    Another sigh escaped my lungs, this one of massive, total relief. I had heard the door to the building open and then close, and neither Greg's voice nor that of Eric or Robbie could be heard any more. I carefully stuck my head out of the bathroom either way, though, and looked around for any trace of Greg; all I saw was another student I didn't recognize, who gave me a strange look that I blushed in embarrassment at. Once I was confident that my lunch break wasn't about to be hijacked yet again, I made my way out into the hallways of the computer and electronics department. As I started making my way to the exit opposite the one Greg and his friends had taken, my eyes caught a sign for one of the rooms: "Computer Lab".

    Now, wasn't that an idea? I had taken a computer literacy course my first semester here for a general education course - it was snoozingly boring, but it was better than any of the other even more tedious options - and I vaguely remembered that the computer labs had fairly strict rules on volume levels; whether or not they were actually still enforced or just allowed to go by the wayside like in the reading room remained to be seen, though. At the same time, though, I wasn't quite certain I wanted one of the labs where there was a supervisor in place - I didn't know how much they'd approve of one of their seats being taken up by a student focused on a book rather than on the computer, and I still wanted to have the chance to eat my lunch, in spite of the computer labs' rules.

    The first few labs I peeked in on were either full, supervised, or both. I was beginning to become convinced that my idea of using a computer lab as an ad hoc reading room was a bust, until I stumbled upon a computer lab that was more out of the way than the others - it was at the tail end of a rather secluded hallway, and the general atmosphere I got was that most people didn't come here too often. Looking in through the window on the door, I actually didn't see anybody inside, student or supervisor; the only sound I could make out was the faint buzzing a few dozen computer fans. With a slight feeling of excitement, I opened the door and stepped in, holding my book close in anticipation of finally being able to read the damned thing.

    "Go, go, go, go!" A deep, baritone voice practically chanted out with an excited tone as I turned my head to look at an area of the lab that had been a blind spot when I was looking in through the door. Five students sat together on a single row of computers, all of them intensely focused on the screens in front of them; their eyebrows were furrowed together, and I could almost see a cold sweat as their fingers clicked on their mice and clacked on their keyboards with a speed I had never seen before. I didn't even really have time to process what I was seeing before all five erupted into various celebrations.

    "Yes!" "Fuck yeah!" "We did it!" "Good job, everyone!" "Hmph." High-fives were exchanged, as were a couple of hugs. After a few seconds, though, one of the students finally noticed me, standing at the door and mildly dumbstruck by the scene. She was a blonde girl who looked to be about my age, maybe a little older - a sophomore like me, or maybe a junior? - who had light freckles scattered across her cheeks and coke bottle green eyes. She wore a smile that one might expect to be on a fox rather than on a person; it wasn't exactly predatory or unkind, though, but rather sort of playful or mischievous.

    "Hey there, girlie." I chafed a little bit at 'girlie', but her greeting apparently drew the attention of the other four members of her group over to me. The first one I noticed was a boy - no, a man, really, going by his size and his bearing - a few years older than me, likely a senior, with dark skin and a well-muscled body. He had his hair done up in cornrows and had a boyish smile on his face that contrasted with his otherwise mature appearance, and I realized perhaps a bit too late that I had been staring at him for far too long; this elicited an upturn in the blonde girl's smile even as I tried to take in the other students. The next girl was similarly dark-skinned, with a stunning appearance and a purple streak through her hair; the guy and her looked similar, and I wanted to assume that they were siblings, but I reserved that potentially offensive judgment until I could know for sure. Another boy - this one I could confidently still call a 'boy' - who had a face that looked like it permanently wore a sort of smug grin; as handsome of a face as it was, I felt some sort of impulsive desire to punch it, as well. The last member I had almost mistaken for another boy, but the tell-tale heft of chest underneath the white tank-top she wore betrayed her actual gender; just like the last boy looked like he was always grinning, this girl looked like she was always scowling.

    "Umm. Hi?" My own greeting to the group turned into more of a question as I shifted on my feet. "I, uhh, if you're busy, I can..." I motioned towards the door, idly turning myself as if getting ready to leave.

    The smug-looking boy just shrugged as he looked towards me. "Unless you're going to be some kind of goody-two-shoes and report us for playing video games in the computer lab, I don't think any of us care."

    The dark-skinned guy lightly smacked the boy upside the head, before responding to me himself. "Don't listen to him. Alec doesn't know how to mind his manners sometimes."

    The boy - Alec - simply gave another shrug before smiling again. "I don't think any of us have any objections to you hanging out here, though." Most of the group shook their heads, while the butch girl simply grunted, which I assumed was her way of agreeing.

    The blonde girl continued, though part of me wished that she hadn't. "We're just playing some Ransack, if you wanted to watch." Yep, there was that Pavlovian response. Suddenly, all the other people in the room - most of which had given off first impressions entirely opposite of Greg - all felt like they would suddenly talk my ear off for hours on end about this stupid little game of theirs... No. I internally took a breath, composing myself. These people weren't Greg; I had known them for approximately thirty seconds, but they all seemed like fairly nice people so far - or most of them, anyways - so I shouldn't dismiss them out of hand like that.

    Of course, I still wanted to read my book. I could maybe eat my lunch here, but it was doubtful if I'd have the ability to concentrate on Faulkner while five people were playing video games in the same room as me. At this point, though, the part of me that wanted a quiet place to read had silently given up. The library was too loud, the other computer labs were filled up with actual computer students, and, knowing my dorm-mate, my own room likely wouldn't be an option, either.

    So with a small, somewhat defeated smile, I nodded my head and made my way towards the back of the room, where the five of them had set themselves up on the school's computers. "Yeah, that's fine with me. Is it okay if I eat my lunch here?"

    Alec shrugged yet again - it seemed he was a particular fan of that gesture - and spoke without looking at me, focused on the game that I now had a glance at. "So long as you don't get butter all over our keyboards, or whatever."

    The dark-skinned man frowned at Alec again, before turning to look at me. "What Alec meant to say is that, yes, it's okay if you eat your lunch here. I mean, it is technically against the rules, but." He gestured to an empty bag of chips in front of his own computer, and then at... The dog, sitting underneath the butch girl's desk - a small little Boston terrier that fit comfortably in that space, but a dog, nonetheless, inside of a school building. "None of us can really lecture anybody else on the rules, to say the least."

    I nodded and took a seat at a nearby empty chair, pulling out my lunch. "Alright, everybody have their skills picked? Rachel, you're Overlord this match, yeah?" The butch girl grunted out acknowledgement, before the dark-skinned man continued. "Alright, I'm queuing us in. Christ, ten minutes? Alright, kickback, everybody, this might be a long one." The dark-skinned girl turned to Alec and started chatting with him - I vaguely noticed some kind of dynamic there, though I couldn't tell if it was romantic or not. Rachel knelt down and started paying some attention to her dog, feeding it a stick of beef jerky. The man who appeared to be some kind of team captain brought up another window, some kind of spreadsheet, where he started entering data - it looked like some kind of log of their losses and victories. The blonde girl, meanwhile, made her way over to me, sitting down at another empty chair.

    "What's your name, anyways, girlie?" My face furrowed a bit at being called 'girlie' again, but that appeared to be the reaction the blonde was seeking, as the smirk on her face spread a little bit when she saw my reaction. "Ah, sorry. I'm always teasing people like that. Brian's always telling me to cut it out, but it's kind of impulsive, on my part." With a genuinely apologetic look, she stuck her hand out at me, and spoke up again. "It's also rude to ask for somebody else's name without giving yours first, so... Hi. I'm Lisa." I softened my expression a bit as the girl spoke.

    Lisa had initially gave me the impression of that bitch Madison with the way that she grinned, but she seemed a lot more affable in her teasing; it was still somewhat annoying, but I also felt like I couldn't hate this girl, either. With a small smile, I accepted her hand and shook it. "I'm Taylor. Nice to meet you, Lisa." I looked back at the five computer screens that had the Ransack game running on them. I found it a bit odd that these five were playing the game on school computers - not because I was worried about misuse of college property or anything, but more that the understanding I had garnered from Greg was that Ransack was a fairly intensive game, and I doubted that out-dated school computers could run it properly. Although it might've come off a bit rude, I asked: "So do you... Play video games together in computer labs often?"

    Lisa smirked, apparently understanding what I was getting at without me having to ask the whole question. She pointed to Alec and the girl he was talking to, before commenting. "Alec and Aisha both live in dorms, so there'd be no way we could fit five people into either of their places." Her finger turned to Rachel, next, who looked amazingly sour for somebody that was in the middle of petting a Boston terrier. "Rache' has like, a dozen dogs at her place-"

    The butch girl spoke without turning to us. "Seven. Seven dogs."

    Lisa just smiled a bit more before continuing "So yeah, Rache' has like, seven dogs at her place, and they tend to get in the way when we're playing." For a moment, I thought that Rachel might be insulted by that comment, but the other girl just sort of grunted again. Alec liked shrugs, Rachel liked grunts, got it. While I was mentally filing that away, Lisa turned her finger to Brian, and then to herself. "Brian and I both live in shared housing situations, and our roommates aren't super appreciative of us taking over the common area every day to play video games. We swap between his place and mine for major tournaments, but in general, we just play casual stuff in the lab here."

    Something clicked in my head about what Lisa had said, but Brian was speaking up before I could fully process it. "Queue's popped, everybody."

    Alec and Aisha looked annoyed, and the boy let his frustrations be known. "What the fuck? You said it was ten minutes. That was like, three."

    Brian was focused on his computer screen even as he spoke back to Alec. "That's an average queue time, Alec. Now sit down and get ready."

    As the other members focused up on their game, I turned to Lisa, trying to ask her my question before she got too involved in the game. "Wait, did you say... Tournaments?"

    Lisa was already back on her feet, making her way over to her computer. "Yeah! We're not fully professional, but we play a lot of collegiate-level stuff. We've even got a sponsor lined up."

    My eyes blinked several times. I had heard of professional video game players before - mostly through Greg, but also through some other avenues - but this was the first time I had actually seen someone who played video games for money, let alone in person. As Lisa sat down at her chair, I aired my last question as she was getting ready for the match. "So you're like... A team? A team of people who play video games like a sport, or something?" I knew it was a dumb question, of course, and I already knew the answer, but I still felt like I needed to hear somebody else to say it before I could believe it, before I could believe that I was watching people seriously compete in a video game.

    Lisa, for her part, didn't show any condescension in her face or in her voice in response to my curiosity; if anything, it seemed like they were all questions that she had grown used to answering. "Yep. We're the Undersiders."
     
    a2znut and Ack like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 2: Ventures
    MissBrainProblems

    MissBrainProblems Making the rounds.

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    Chapter 2: Ventures

    -----------------------------------------

    To be honest, I didn't actually quite understand what was going on as the Undersiders played their game. I had absorbed no small amount of information regarding Ransack from listening to Greg ramble about it, and there was enough happening on the screen that was intuitive enough - Alec's screen going grey followed by a loud curse from the boy was enough to let me know that his character had died in the game, for example - but a lot of it seemed like so many flashing lights and pretty colors to me.

    The jargon that was being thrown around as they rapidly talked back and forth didn't exactly help matters, either: Lisa commenting "Mini's a spawner."

    ...followed by Brian's curse of "Shit, of course it is. Regent, ult timer?"

    ...and then Alec in response "See-dee's at forty-five." See-dee? As in, CD? Why were they talking about compact disks?

    Whatever it all meant, though, it was clear that it wasn't a good thing for the Undersiders, as they all grit their teeth and furrowed their brows. Brian spoke up authoritatively: "Imp, Regent, Tattle, focus the mini down. I'll disable the adds." Yeah, he was definitely some kind of team captain, the way he was talking. Aisha, Alec, and Lisa all responded in the affirmative - I assumed that the names they were using were their in-game names, or some such.

    As the four of them started working on the "mini", whatever that was, Brian turned his attention to Rachel. "Hound, how's your situation?"

    The butch girl, if anything, looked even more stressed out than the rest of the team, but she offered a simple "S'fine." in response to Brian's inquiry.

    The team captain shook his head, piping up with "It's clearly not. I'm checking the map."

    Rachel frowned, letting out a louder, harsher. "It's fine! Focus on your shit, alright?!"

    Brian scowled as he looked at some new sort of window on his game screen. "God damnit, Hound. They're already past your mini. Why didn't you ask for help?"

    Rachel was looking angrier by the second as her team captain grilled her on... Whatever it was. "It's fine. You know I play ramp. It's gonna be harder for them after my mini."

    The man sighed, before returning his attention to the action that he and the other three members were engaged in. "Okay, but you fucking tell us if you need help." Rachel let out a growl, before going back to her own part of the game.

    "I mean, if I had been on the opposite end of our team comp, I'd have gone for a spawner mini, too." Lisa spoke up as the screens of everyone except Rachel lit up with the elaborately fonted red words: 'ENEMY LIEUTENANT KILLED'. "None of our builds have any ayy-oh-ee. Honestly, they're probably going to have swarms in the rest of the rooms."

    In response to the blonde girl, Brian just frowned again, his words hard as he spoke through partially grit teeth. "Not important right now, Tattle. We can discuss team comp balance later. Just focus." Lisa didn't respond except for a simple "Mmm." as the team returned to spewing jargon that I couldn't make heads-or-tails of while continuing their way through the game.

    Some minutes later, as I was finishing the last scraps of my lasagna, I was nearly startled out of my chair by Brian's shouting. "God damnit, Hound! They're at your fucking Overlord?! Why didn't you say anything?!" I tensed backward into my seat; the argument didn't involve me, of course, but I was still doing my best to keep myself out of whatever crossfire might erupt.

    Rachel responded to Brian's shouting, her own voice loud and rough. "It's fine! The dragons are ancient, they're ramped to full, it's going to take these fuckheads a few runs before they can manage any shit."

    Whatever that explanation meant, it appeared that Brian wasn't accepting it. "No. Open a recall portal, now. We're coming to help you."

    Rachel growled as her mouse clicking and keyboard clacking grew louder. "You're almost at their Overlord, right?! Just fucking go, I'll be fine!"

    I was surprised at how well Brian could remain focused on the game even as he was practically shouting at his team mate. "It's not going to matter if they kill you before we get there! Open a fucking recall portal or I'll have us backtrack to the nearest one over here!"

    Rachel raised her voice in response to Brian's yelling. "Fucking do it, then! These jackasses are gonna be dead by the time you get here, though!" Lisa, Alec, and Aisha all looked a bit awkward, to say the least, as their other two team mates argued right next to them; whatever was happening in the game, the non-stop action that had been on everybody but Rachel's screens died down, and I only saw their characters walking back to parts of the map they had already been.

    "Your aytch-pee's dropping, Hound." Brian's voice was quieter, now, but it was also harder than it had been before.

    "It's fine. Focus on your own shit." Rachel took a similar tone, and I tried to hide myself by making a show of finishing off my lasagna.

    Less than a minute later, there was a collective outpouring of disappointment from all of the Undersiders. A quick glance at their screens told me the reason why; in similarly styled letters as from before was the single word "DEFEAT" plastered in the middle of their monitors. Aisha, Alec, and Lisa all seemed relatively okay with their loss; disappointed, but not upset in the same way that Brian and Rachel were.

    "Shit sucks." was Aisha's simple proclamation as she stretched out in her chair.

    "Ya win some, ya lose some." Alec nodded in agreement as he clicked around on his screen. Lisa, for her part, was watching her other two team mates, obviously judging what was going to happen between the two of them now.

    Brian was staring at his own monitor, back in the spreadsheet from before, while Rachel was focused on the Boston terrier underneath the desk, clamping a leash onto its collar. "I'm taking Bentley for a walk."

    Without looking away from his computer, Brian responded. "We're talking about it later." Rachel just sort of scowled, still not looking at her team captain; she gave off a clearly annoyed grunt of acknowledgement, but returned her focus to the dog.

    Apparently content with that resolution, Lisa came back over to me, giving an apologetic smile and a shrug. "Sorry about that, Taylor. I was hoping we could put our best foot forward for you, but things don't always go the way you plan, I suppose." I nodded as I returned the plastic container that my lasagna had been into my backpack. "It, uhh, seems like it can be a pretty stressful game sometimes." I looked to Rachel and Brian meaningfully as I said that, and I was pretty sure I saw the butch girl tense up slightly; I was afraid that she might turn on me and flip out, but she didn't, thankfully.

    "Well, like I said, we play competitively. Money wasn't on the line in those last two games we played, but during tournaments it is. It's not exactly a career for us - not yet, anyways - but we do have to play at a consistently high level if we want to get anywhere." Lisa tilted her head as she gave another shrug. "But it happens. We get over it, we learn our lessons, we improve. Anyways, it's honestly a lot of fun even if we do get stressed out about it from time to time; we'll play casual games sometimes just to mess around a bit. Actually, now that I think about it..." Lisa put on that vulpine grin of hers, and I immediately felt my stomach sink in anxiety. She wasn't really about to...

    As Rachel started to make her way out of the computer lab with her dog on a leash, Lisa called out after her. "Hey, Rache'! Can Taylor use your computer to play a bot game with us?"

    The butch girl furrowed her brows, but just waved dismissively at us as she continued towards the exit. "Just don't fuck up my account, or I'll beat your face in."

    As Rachel left the room, Lisa turned to me, looking a little amused at what her team-mate had just said. "Don't worry, she won't actually beat your face in. I don't think so, anyway." For my part, I was retreating back into my chair again, and I was decidedly not amused by Rachel's comments; her words had stirred up memories of a certain Sophia Hess from Winslow High, and a pair of broken glasses that had accompanied a bloody nose. I started to feel anxiety overtake me, and a sudden urge to rush back to my dorm room began to swell up. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, before reminding myself that these people were not Sophia Hess, or Emma Barnes, or Madison Clements; this was not Winslow High, and I was not in danger or being bullied.

    As I opened my eyes, I saw Lisa looking at me with a concerned expression; it made sense, of course, considering that I had just performed extensive breathing exercises in front of her and was probably shaking in the mean time. With a weak smile, I shook my head and did my best to assuage her obvious worry. "It's fine. You, uhh, you were saying something having me play a game with you guys? I mean, I don't even really know what to do in it, so I wouldn't want to like, mess you up or anything, y'know?" My reluctance only partially came from a desire to never touch the thing that Greg Veder always tried to shove down my proverbial throat.

    Lisa, however, was far more charming and convincing than Greg Veder could ever hope to be. She took my hand and guided me over to the chair that Rachel had been sitting at, and gently but firmly shoved me down into it; I idly noticed the warmth on the chair, and a mild scent of body odor that I assumed had been left behind by the Rachel. Lisa continued her explanation, even as she began setting the game in front of me up. "Don't worry. We'll be playing against bot opponents." I vaguely thought I understood what she meant, but I raised my eyebrows for further clarification. "Err, like, AI opponents. Artificial intelligences. Computers. Basically, they're not real people, and we certainly don't have ranked points on the line."

    Lisa looked over to Brian, Alec, and Aisha, as if they were afterthoughts in her little plot to get me to play the game with them. "You guys don't mind playing a bot game with Taylor, do you?"

    Alec shrugged and gave a lopsided grin. "Honestly? I could use some comp-stomp after that fiasco we just had."

    Aisha nodded as she rested her chin on the boy's shoulder. "Yeah, some chill-out time would be nice."

    I noticed an odd look on Brian's face as he looked over towards his other two team-mates; disapproval? I couldn't tell about what, though. Turning his face to me, though, he gave me another boyish smile that made my heart skip a beat; fuck, he really was cute. Lisa must have noticed again, since she gave me a knowing smirk, before Brian spoke up. "It's fine. I always like introducing new players to Overlord, showing them how fun it can be, stuff like that. We can play a short bot game, yeah."

    Doing my best to not let the blush flood my cheeks, I nodded and turned back to the screen that Lisa was still fiddling around on. "Alright, so, rather than throwing you into the deep-end, we'll start you off simple. Or as simple as we can, anyways." There was a character on my screen - my character, I assumed - that was idly looking around as he - They? She? I couldn't tell, honestly - stood on some sort of platform. They were dressed pretty plainly, in what looked like leather armor, a cloak, and a face-concealing hood; a sword hung at their side, they had a few vials of red liquid attached to their belt that I assumed to be potions, and their left hand occasionally erupted into fire from time to time. Lisa began her explanation, and I was thankful that she went light on the game jargon.

    "So, characters in Ransack - or avatars, or toons, or whatever you want to call them - can get pretty heavily customized, as you can see if you look at the other's characters." Lisa pointed to a set of four, small windows on the side of my screen, that each showed a single character. Just as she had said, they all looked a lot more elaborate than mine did; I was mildly jealous, but I also knew that I probably wouldn't be able to play whatever they had going on with their characters. "But for your first game, we'll just start you off with the basic, beginner, pre-made character, the Adventurer." I noticed a label above my character's head, spelling out in gold, stylized letters: "ADVENTURER".

    Lisa continued her explanation as I did my best to take in all of the information. "They're... Not really good at anything, but they're not really bad at anything, either. Jack of all trades, master of none sort of thing. Characters in Ransack have three to five abilities or powers or whatever, and the Adventurer's are pretty simple. You can whack things up close extra hard with your sword, you can throw your fireball from a distance, you can get into a defensive stance to take less damage, you can drink a potion to restore health, or you can spin your sword around to attack all nearby enemies."

    Lisa continued to use the mouse to point out all of the game elements she was talking about, and she went slow enough that I could follow along. "There's a lot of other information in the abilities' tooltips - err, the little infobox that pops up when you hover your mouse cursor over them, like that - but it's more advanced stuff; you don't really need to know about disciplines and all that if you're just going to be beating up AI opponents. Let's see..." I was actually managing to understand most of what Lisa was telling me and - despite myself - it actually seemed pretty interesting and fun, even if I hadn't actually done anything myself. "You need stamina to use abilities, but you probably won't run out of it on Adventurer unless you spam your healing potion. So, uhh, don't do that. Some of your abilities have cooldowns, or CDs for short-" Ah, that's what Alec was saying earlier "-that means that you have to wait a little while before using them again. Uhm. I think we can explain everything else once we get into the game?"

    Lisa turned her attention back to her team mates, and they all gave nods and shrugs in response. "Alec, you want to be Overlord?"

    The boy sighed, but in a sort of jesting manner, clearly not actually annoyed by the question. "As you wish, my queen, as you wish."

    Aisha gave Alec a playful hit on the shoulder, before smiling and saying. "Hey! I thought I was your queen."

    Another one of those looks from Brian; yep, definitely something going on there. Whatever was on his mind, though, the team captain turned to Lisa before speaking up. "Alright. I guess we'll go slow, though? Just let her get stuff figured out, see how the game plays?"

    The blonde girl nodded as she took a seat in front of the computer next to me; I appreciated the fact that it separated me from Brian in the process, which helped lessen the redness on my face as I turned my focus back onto the game. "That's the idea, yeah. Don't want to overwhelm her, or anything. Scare her off by telling her too much about the game at once, like how I know some people do." Lisa gave me a wink, as if she was somehow aware of my experiences with Greg; I doubted she did, but I also knew that I wouldn't be entirely surprised if this girl was some kind of psychic, from the way she acted and gave off that fox-like smirk all the time.

    "Everyone ready?" Brian looked around at me and the rest of his team mates, looking for a response.

    "Ready!" "Yup." "Ready." I let out my own, awkward "R... Err, ready, yeah." Brian smiled again, before pressing a button in his game; whatever he did, my own screen changed, showing a new image with the word "LOADING" plastered across it.

    Lisa planted a hand on my shoulder, before speaking up again. "Don't worry, I set you into tutorial mode, so the game will tell you what all of the controls and stuff are once we load in all the way."

    I nodded, before asking her about something I noticed on my monitor. "These, uhh... Are these names? Like, your guys' in-game names, or something?" There were five pictures along the top of the screen, each one showing - I assumed - the character that each of us was playing; above each picture was a word, sometimes mixed in with other symbols. There were also five more pictures at the bottom, but they all showed computers, and the word above each one was "Bot 1", "Bot 2", and so on.

    Seeing what I was asking, though, Lisa began her explanation. "Yep. xHellhoundx is Rachel, technically you, right now. She wanted to call herself 'Bitch', but the profanity filter wouldn't let her."

    I raised an eyebrow at Lisa, my mouth slightly ajar at that. "She... Wanted to call herself 'Bitch'? Wh... Why would anyone...?"

    The blonde girl simply gave a shrug and a smile, before continuing down the list of names. "Eaten_By_A_Grue is Brian over here, King_Regent is Alec, ImpishGrin is Aisha, and I'm MissTattletale." Lisa looked around conspiratorially, before leaning in and speaking in a stage whisper loud enough for everyone else to hear. "Most people don't call each other by their screen names when playing, but Brian says that it helps for 'immersion'."

    The man in question sighed, shaking his head in response to Lisa's word. "It does, you know." Brian spoke up, defending his position. "There's been studies on it, and stuff. Teams that use their in-game names during matches perform better, on average." I chuckled a little bit as they spoke back and forth to one another. I only vaguely understood what they were talking about, and it wasn't even exactly a funny subject, but something about it... Even with Rachel having stormed off in a huff, these folks seemed like friends, like real, genuine friends; I did feel a bit of envy in my heart as I thought about that, maybe even some bitterness as images of Emma flashed through my head, but I also felt a warmth as I watched the two of them chatting like that. It was... Nice. That was the only word I could think to use, really; it was nice to watch these friends just be friends with each other.

    Before Lisa or Brian could say anything more, Alec let out a groan of annoyance as he stretched his arms up. "Uuuggghhh. Why does it take so long to load on these computers?! Mine would have finished like, five minutes ago!"

    Lisa snorted a bit, before giving a bit of commentary. "Alec, the game's been loading for like, three minutes. Are you telling me that your computer can time travel, and load things in the past?"

    Alec grinned, before bantering back. "Yeah. Don't you have a time traveling computer? I thought that was standard, these days." Brian spoke up next, punctuating his words with a shrug. "The computers in these labs are practically toasters, especially these ones, since I don't think anyone except us even remembers this room exists."

    Aisha offered a thought, next, one that seemed a bit more insightful than I would have expected from her; I immediately felt a pang of guilt for having judged her like that, though. "Fuckin' weird, too, considering that students are supposed to be using these for classwork and stuff, too. Can some computer whiz really do a project with rigs this old?"

    Alec spoke up again, putting on the sarcastic tone he was so skilled in. "Ah, yes, Aisha, of course. Students using these computers for classwork, like..." His hand motioned across the row of computers we were sitting at. "...playing Ransack."

    His comment gave us all a bit of a laugh, myself included. Just as it felt good to watch these friends talk with each other, it felt even more so to be able to laugh with other people, hell, to be able to be around people who were laughing being the subject of their laughter; I wasn't audacious enough to claim myself as the Undersiders' friends - I'd only known them for barely an hour, so far - but it was still... Very, very nice to be able to laugh with them like this. God, they had even invited me to play their game with them. I idly considered pinching myself, to make sure that I wasn't dreaming; it would certainly have said something if the idealistic fantasies that showed up in my dreams involved just being able to hang out with other people for once in my life, though.

    Before I could think about that any further, the computer screens changed again; it appeared that the loading had finished, and we were finally in the game. I felt my heart rate tick up a bit as some informational windows showed up on my screen, explaining how to move and attack and stuff like that. I... When was the last time I had even played a video game? Like, actually played a video game? I fiddled around with some puzzle games on my phone when I was bored, but that didn't really compare to the sheer complexity that was presented in front of me by Ransack. I belatedly realized, though, that it wasn't just that I was nervous about a new experience, or anxious about dragging the other guys down, or blushing from stealing glances at Brian, or giddy about being able to casually spend free time with other people... Hell, in spite of everything I had thought about this game before now, in spite of being endlessly harangued by Greg about it, I was excited to play Ransack. It looked like a fun game, just from what I had seen so far, and I actively wanted to play it by this point, with or without Lisa's coercion.

    The blonde girl in question looked towards me with that smile of hers. "Ready to play Ransack, Taylor?"

    I gave a grin back to her, doing my best to match her expression. "Hell yeah." We gave each other a high-five, and I focused my eyes on the screen in front of me.
     
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  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 3: Neophyte
    MissBrainProblems

    MissBrainProblems Making the rounds.

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    Chapter 3: Neophyte

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    I had been clicking around on the screen for the past few minutes, getting a good understanding of how my character moved and how I could shift my camera around to see different parts of the map. There was apparently a short pre-game preparation phase that both the regular Hero characters like what I was playing and the big boss Overlord thing could use to set themselves up. According to Lisa, though, since we were playing against computer opponents, we were allowed to take as long as we wanted for our prep period; I was taking full advantage of that, spending time whacking the training dummies in the "home base" area with my basic attacks and the "Heavy Swing" skill that my character had already unlocked, the "hit it very hard" ability that Lisa had told me about. I was letting my eyes adjust to the sheer amount of information being presented to me on my monitor at any given moment - that's my "HP" bar, that's my "SP" bar, that's how much gold I have, that's the inventory and equipment button - while I was having a few more detailed things explained to me.

    "It's usually better to choose what skills and items to buy, and to decide for yourself what gear and loot to equip, but I have it set up so that the game will do those things automatically for you; we can tell you more about that stuff later, and being super precise with skills and items don't really matter when you're fighting bots, anyways." I noted that Lisa had casually mentioned a nebulous "later" in the middle of everything else she said. Was she already planning on getting me to play more Ransack, or to hang out with me again? The concept of somebody besides Greg wanting to spend more time with me was a bit foreign, to say the least, but I managed to suppress the anxiety that began to well up in my stomach from the idea; Emma's face once again popped into my head, and I had to remind myself once more that this girl was not that fucking bitch Emma, that if Lisa really did want to be my friend - I was still struggling with how suddenly that possibility had arisen, of course - that I had no reason to expect any sort of betrayal out of her. Not yet, anyways.

    As I turned to look at Lisa, I caught glances of the other three people I was playing with. Aisha and Alec were laughing as they messed around in the home base area, apparently having turned on some sort of mode where Aisha's character could fight Alec's Overlord minions without messing anything up for the actual game. It was obvious that they were a little bit impatient when it came to teaching a new person how to play the game, but I was thankful that they weren't making a big deal out of it, either. Brian, on the other hand, just smiled at me, eliciting the same sort of reaction in me as it had the first few times he had done it. In spite of his large, muscular build, he seemed like a fairly calm, understanding person; even when he was arguing with Rachel, earlier, I could tell that he was suppressing most of the anger he had so that the fight wouldn't blow up to anything larger than it had to. He had piped up a few times when Lisa was explaining how the game worked to me, and he seemed perfectly happy to help me learn the ropes, even if it meant that he had to sit around and wait for a while as I got it all figured out. And Lisa herself... She smiled as I caught her gaze. It was a gentle, friendly smile, albeit one that still had that vulpine quality to it; it didn't seem like the kind of expression that had malice or ill-will in it, though, instead consisting more of caprice and a bit of foolery. No, not like Emma at all, nor like Madison, nor like Sophia. Just... A friendly, genuinely friendly person, with no apparent ulterior motives besides wanting to share the fun of the game that she clearly loved so much.

    "Alright, I... Think I'm ready, now?" I grimaced a little bit at how much my voice clearly lacked confidence, but I moved my character up to the exit leading out from the home base in an attempt to show some degree of initiative.

    Alec stretched in his chair, looking over towards where Lisa, Brian and I sat. "God, finally. You old folks have to get your diapers on before you can play?"

    Brian himself looked like he wanted to reprimand Alec for that little snark, but before he could, Aisha hit the boy on the arm, a fair bit harder than she necessarily had to. As Alec was nursing what was sure to be a new bruise forming on that pale skin of his, the girl next to him was the one that offered him a chiding remark. "Be nice, Alec! Taylor's new! You had no idea how to play when you first started, did you?" Alec grumbled something out, clearly having been humbled by Aisha; I made a mental note that the girl seemed to actually be less impatient with me than I had first assumed, and felt a bit of guilt at having formed such a hasty opinion of her before.

    Lisa just kind of smirked wider as she put on a faked "old person" voice. "We might have to put diapers on, Mister Vasil, but with age comes skill, which everyone knows that you lack."

    Brian had to stifle a chuckle, while Aisha's eyes went wide before she let out an "Oooh snap, Alec. You gonna let her do you like that?" I even found myself laughing a little bit at the banter going; even if they were technically insulting each other, it was obviously just good-natured ribbing, and not intended to cause any sort of emotional hurt.

    Alec sighed, ignoring the rest of his team as he clicked around on his screen, doing whatever Overlord stuff was happening over there. "Whatever, guys. Let's just get this show on the road. We've got some comps to stomp, yeah?" Brian, Lisa, and Aisha all answered in the affirmative, before moving their characters up towards mine, near the exit.

    I stopped for a moment, though, something falling into place in my head. Mister Vasil? Vasil... Where had I heard that name before? Before I could pursue that line of inquiry any further, though, Brian turned and spoke to me. "You ready, Taylor? Just say the word if you want to take some more time, or if you have any other questions."

    I shook my head before responding. "No, it's fine. I've already taken like, five or ten minutes getting this figured out. I should be good, and I can learn more when we're actually doing it, anyways." Brian nodded, and pressed something on his screen, which caused a countdown to appear on my own game.

    A female voice announced it as the numbers quickly ticked down. "GAME BEGINNING IN 10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... START!" Our characters in the game let out battlecries as we moved them into the dungeon that the AI Overlord had constructed.

    "Alright, so, bots aren't super good at making dungeons, especially not when we have them on the easiest difficulty." Lisa began a running explanation as our party entered the first room, where a group of skeletons started charging towards us. "Players will try to set things up so that like, a trap will give the enemy party elemental vulnerability... Err, sorry, make them take more damage from magic, and stuff, before sending them into the next room where there's a bunch of wizards, or whatever." I was alternating basic attacks on the skeletons and using my Heavy Swing whenever it was available to use - when it "came off cooldown", I suppose. It looked like Lisa, Brian, and Aisha were all taking their time, apparently to let me have some more field experience with the gameplay before we moved on. Lisa continued, smiling a bit as she did. "But bot Overlords tend to just... Slap things down without any rhyme or reason. Some of the higher level difficulty bots have a bit more strategy, but they also have trouble adapting. But, uh, anyways, looks like we just got our first level up."

    Just as Lisa had said, a sort of golden light surrounded our characters for a brief second before disappearing. I noticed that the icon for the "Firebolt" skill on the... Hotbar, I think they called it, had turned from being greyed out to colored. Lisa's comment confirmed my suspicions on that: "So, with the auto-level, you should have Firebolt unlocked now. It uses more stamina and has a longer cooldown than Heavy Swing, but it obviously does more damage in return, and you can use it at range." I had figured most of that, but I wasn't about to make myself seem ungrateful by telling Lisa not to explain it to me, either; she was taking the time to teach me, so I'd thank her even if she was teaching me stuff I was learning on my own. "You got some equipment from killing the skeletons, too, which I think auto-gear should have already equipped for you. It's not going to change up how you should play too much, but it'll give you more offensive and defensive power."

    As we entered the next room, I was able to see for myself what Lisa meant. There were some of the same skeletons from the last room in this new one, and I used Heavy Swing on the nearest, killing it in one hit; in the last room, Heavy Swing had only taken out about half of a skeleton's health, so I could already see the improvements that the new gear gave me. The next thing I noticed was that there were a few skeletons that looked different further back in the room, who were dressed in tattered robes and were holding intricate looking staves; the obvious conclusion was that they were skeleton wizards of some kind, who were probably more dangerous than the normal skeletons, so I used my Firebolt ability for the first time. The spell hit the closest skeleton wizard with a satisfying explosion, sending bones flying as I got yet another one-hit-kill. I was so focused on the game that I hadn't even noticed that Lisa was still lecturing me. "So those are Bone Magi over there, and they can hit pretty hard from a distance, so you'll want to- Oh. You... Already did what I was going to tell you to do." Lisa frowned a little bit, looking a tad sheepish and embarrassed as she sent her character to kill another one of the "Bone Magi".

    Brian let out a laugh at Lisa's consternation, a deep, rich sound that made me begin to wonder just how deprived I was of romantic attention that I was thirsting after this man more and more with every second I was in his proximity; I was honestly starting to feel a bit guilty and embarrassed, but I was thankfully distracted by Brian teasing Lisa. "Your little girl's growing up so fast, isn't she, Tattle?" I was confused for a moment, before remembering that they called each other by their in-game names while they were playing; right, Lisa was MissTattletale. I watched as her character whacked at some of the remaining skeletons; the words "DODGED" and "MISSED" appeared over her and the nearby skeletons respectively as the enemies tried to attack her.

    As we finished off this room, I was slightly disappointed by the fact that we didn't level-up again; the feeling of becoming stronger and more powerful - or, at the very least, my character becoming stronger and more powerful - was a bit exhilarating, and I was looking forward to it happening again. At the very least, I noticed a few numbers in a window that showed my character's statistics go up - more loot that was auto-equipped? Making my way into the next room, I indulged in my curiosity and asked Lisa about what I had noticed with her character. "So, uhh, I noticed those skeletons were having trouble hitting you back there? I think I saw them miss me a few times, but it looked like you were always dodging their attacks."

    The blonde girl nodded, a few strands of hair falling in front of her face that she swept back behind her ear. "Yeah, that's part of my build. My character has a really high agility, which means that she's hard to hit. I have lower health and armor as a result, but it doesn't matter if I never take any damage."

    Alec piped up from a few seats over. "Yeah, until you get hit once and fall over flat on your face from it." Lisa frowned, but didn't respond to her team-mate's provocation.

    Instead, she opted to continue explaining her "build"; it was clear that she was really passionate about the topic, but she still tried to keep the concept as simple as she could. "Anyways, I primarily built my character for scouting purposes. I can actually see a few rooms ahead with one of my skills, which lets us prepare for whatever will be coming next. I also- Wait, what the fuck?"

    Aisha raised her eyebrows as we entered the next room. It looked like... Some kind of shop? There was a fat, jovial looking man wearing a bunch of jewelry; he was standing underneath a colorful tent with a bunch of interesting looking items on display in front of him. "Seriously? A merchant? On the third room?" The girl scoffed, before turning to look at me. "This is what Tattle meant, by the way. These bots just... Do shit like this, all the time."

    I looked at Lisa herself, now, not quite certain as to why everybody else seemed so upset at the circumstances. As I walked towards the shop, though, I heard the sound of coins clinking together - the auto-buy system, I assumed? I saw my character's attributes increase again, so that made sense. Lisa shook her head, before continuing her explanation. "So, like I said earlier, you can buy items at shops with the gold you get from killing monsters and clearing rooms. Overlords want to place merchants, though, because they get renown, their own sort of currency or resource, in return for players spending gold; it's meant to create a system where players have to be careful about what they buy, since every penny they spend helps the enemy Overlord, too. Usually they'll be placed like, right after the miniboss, or something, since players get a lot of gold when they defeat it, and so that they can't use that equipment to help fight the miniboss itself." It was a lot to take in at once, but I was managing to follow along even as we made our way past the shop and to the next room. "But placing it so early in the dungeon, when the players barely have any gold, is just... Pointless. Completely and utterly pointless." Lisa sighed and shrugged, before turning to me and smiling. "Sorry that these bots are so bad at the game. I was hoping for better examples to show you."

    Alec spoke up again. "Speaking of the bots being bad, I just wiped their whole party. They, uhh, I don't think they know how to deal with traps and enemies at the same time..."

    Keeping my attention on Lisa, I shook my head with a grin on my own face. "No, it's fine. I'm sure I'll get to figure more stuff out in other games, too." The words had slipped without me even realizing I was saying them; Lisa herself had made the comment that we'd be doing stuff "later", and then I was, apparently already considering playing more Ransack later. I silently made a note to myself that if I did start putting more time into this game, that I would never, never let Greg know.

    Lisa smiled wider, apparently having caught my remark same as I did. "I'll add you as a friend once you make an account, and I can take you through some regular, player-versus-player games, too." My head started to spin a little bit, and it wasn't just because of the sudden onslaught of zombie dogs in the room we had just entered. As I alternated between my Heavy Swing and my Firebolt, I tried to compose myself. Add me as a friend? When I make an account? Player-versus-player? God, what the hell had happened in the past two hours, anyways?

    As I faced down what looked to be a skeleton in heavy armor, I furrowed my brows as I heard a whiffing sound effect from the game. Neither my Heavy Swing nor my Firebolt were going off, and I wasn't sure why. Lisa leaned over and staged whispered as she pointed to a part of my screen. "Psst. Genius. You're out of stamina." I frowned as I looked at the place where Lisa's finger was; indeed, that was my stamina bar, and it was nearly empty. I apparently managed to reach enough SP to use Heavy Swing again, as I smacked the armored skeleton and defeated him, but my stamina bar depleted completely. It slowly began to refill as Lisa smirked at me, delivering another teasing remark. "I told you not to spam your abilities." Had I been "spamming" my skills? I guess I had, thinking about it. I was using Firebolt on the weaker skeletons that I probably didn't need to, and I could tell that it used up a lot of my SP...

    I grumbled a bit as I began to realize an additional level of complexity to the game; as fun as it was to spam magic spells at enemies and watch them explode, I couldn't do that too much, or else I wouldn't be able to do anything except whack them with my sword. Brian darted his eyes over to me, speaking up even as he remained focused on his own screen. "Don't worry, Taylor. Just another thing to learn. You'll get it soon enough." I blushed again, but this time not because of the girlish crush I had rapidly developed on Brian. This had been the first real mistake I had made in the game, and I considered the sort of consequences it might have had in a real game. Would I have slowed the rest of my team down enough for the enemies to push further in our own dungeon? Would we have had to wait for my SP to fill up again, wasting precious seconds that we should have been using to move forward? And why was I already thinking so competitively?

    Suddenly, though, my stamina bar immediately filled to maximum; the golden level-up light that pulsed as we finished clearing the room let me know why. Again, I could already wager why it had happened, but Lisa confirmed it for me either way. "Well, at the very least, you get all your HP and SP back whenever you level-up, so we don't have to wait any longer to keep moving." Thank God for small blessings, I supposed. I shook myself out of the rut I had dug myself into, before advancing into the next room with the others.

    We went through that gameplay loop a few times, with Lisa and Brian taking turns explaining new things to me as we went on. While my Adventurer character had a "Healing Potion" ability that I could use repeatedly, there were also "Health Potion" items that I could use, but that were lost when I did so; I commented that it seemed like a confusing thing to do, but Lisa simply shrugged and told me that the game wasn't perfect, as much as she loved it. I got a few "Stamina Potions" that I used to allow myself to spam my abilities, which now included my Healing Potion, my Defensive Stance, and my Circle Swing skills. The Circle Swing ability was particularly satisfying, as I could run into a group of weaker skeletons and annihilate them all with the push of a single button; the only downside was that it cost a lot of stamina and had a really long CD - jeez, look at me, already using all of that game jargon - so I couldn't use it all that often. Brian informed me that abilities like Circle Swing are what tend to be referred to as "Ultimates", skills that are very powerful but also very costly.

    Eventually, we reached the entrance to a room that I realized was about halfway through the dungeon map. The door itself had an elaborate design on it, and I could immediately tell that something important lay beyond. Lisa confirmed my suspicions. "Alright, so, this is the miniboss. I'm guessing it's probably a Bone Giant, judging by what we've seen so far. It's going to be way tougher and hit way harder than anything we've fought so far. You might see some red circles or stuff appear on the floor when we're in there. Those are his AoE attacks; basically, move your character out of the red circle or you'll take a lot of damage. If you die, you'll just be returned to the start, but you will still have to walk all the way back. Grue will take aggro - that is, he'll take the Bone Giant's regular attacks - so you don't have to worry about getting hurt from that. Ready?" She looked at me expectantly, as Aisha's character ran around near the door.

    I gripped my mouse tighter, my fingers primed on the ability hotkeys that I had already developed muscle memory for. With a deep breath, I nodded, and gave my affirmation. "Ready."

    Lisa gave me another smile, before placing her hand on my shoulder. "You'll do fine, Taylor. You've been great so far."

    Brian grinned over to me, too, reinforcing Lisa's words. "Just let him beat the crap out of me, while you beat the crap out of him. It'll work out, trust us."

    Even Alec offered a few words of encouragement, the last person I expected to do so. "Yeah, uhh, I can't really see how you guys are doing over there in the other dungeon, but, honestly? A monkey could beat these bots, so I'm that sure you can do it, too." He raised an eyebrow, though, and gave me one of those abrasive smirks of his. "I mean, unless you're dumber than a monkey, but you don't give me that impression." Okay, maybe they weren't the best words of encouragement, but I appreciated the sentiment.

    Brian sighed, and I momentarily wondered how he managed to deal with Alec on a regular basis like this. Not letting his snarky team mate get to him, though, he simply spoke up again, confidently and authoritatively. "Alright. We're going in." And then, the doors opened, and the "fog of war" dissipated and revealed, indeed, what appeared to be a massive, hulking skeleton; it seemed that Lisa was right. I charged in towards the thing, letting Firebolts loose as I closed the distance. As I did so, I noticed the Bone Giant turned to face Brian - to face Grue, rather - and marched towards the large, dark-armored man that the team captain was controlling. Once I reached melee range, I started spamming Heavy Swing, quaffing down stamina potions whenever I needed a refill. I was so focused on beating this thing down that I didn't even notice the red circle forming around the miniboss.

    "Taylor! Move!" Lisa was shouting at me, but I couldn't understand what she meant, until I saw my health bar drop by half. I swore under my breath as I immediately pressed the button for my Healing Potion ability - not my health potion item, which I still said was way too confusing - and recovered some of the damage. "Yeah. That's the AoE thing I mentioned. Have to pay attention, Taylor." Her words weren't harsh, but still a bit chiding. It had indeed been my fault that I got hit by the "AoE", and if I had been at or under half health when I took that damage... I would have been dead, and would have failed my team. Doing my best to keep my cool, I went back to whacking at the Bone Giant.

    Some seconds later, a few more red circles appeared, this time underneath all of our characters. Having remained tense since I got hit by the last one, I managed to move my character out of the way, casting a Firebolt from range as I retreated. A set of bone-spikes erupted from the ground a moment later, but I was well out of their way when they did. As I sighed, Lisa took one hand off her keyboard to pat my shoulder again. "There you go, Taylor, just like that." With a smile and a warm feeling in my heart, I returned my attention to the game.

    My heart rate ticked up as I saw the Bone Giant's health bar dropped. It was tough, and it had a lot of health, and he was definitely taking much longer to kill than any of the normal enemies we had encountered until now; having to move around and dodge the AoEs just made the fight even more hectic. As his HP got closer and closer to zero, though, I felt myself becoming more and more excited... And I lost my focus. "Taylor!" Lisa yelled again, but it was too late. A set of bone-spikes hit my character, and I held my breath as I examined the aftermath; my eyes darted down to my health bar, and I saw... 10% HP left.

    "Holy fuck." I could barely speak, my adrenaline having peaked as I nearly died. A few seconds later, though, and the Bone Giant was finished off. A golden light surrounded our characters, and my health refilled to its new maximum. I took several deep breaths as my panic response toned down, squeezing my mouse hard enough that I was worried that I might break it.

    Lisa leaned over from her chair to wrap her arms around me in a light hug, before quickly pulling back. "See! We told you that you could do it!" I nodded dumbly, my brain having to work a bit harder to process her words as I still tried to calm down.

    Aisha spoke up from her seat. "You know we still have half a dungeon and the Overlord left, right? Don't get all touchy-feely just yet, kids." I laughed a little bit at her words, not least of all when she called us 'kids'; I didn't know everybody's ages yet, but I was pretty sure that she was the youngest.

    Brian nodded, grunting agreement before making his own statement. "Imp's right. Defeating the miniboss isn't any reason to get complacent, Taylor. Even if we're just fighting bots, the dungeon's still going to get harder from here on out." He turned towards me, giving another one of those award-winning grins. "But we can count on you, right, Taylor?"

    Yes. God yes, you can. I realized that I hadn't actually spoken, and instead had only stared at Brian for a few seconds, so I made myself actually voice my thoughts. "Yes, absolutely. I won't let you guys down." Smiles all around, even from Alec, and not even a condescending one.

    Taking the initiative again, I moved my character towards the exit of the miniboss room, and the entrance to the rest of the dungeon. "Come on, everybody." I felt my adrenaline ramping up again, as I thought about what lay beyond that door. "We've got an Overlord to kill."
     
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  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 4: Victories
    MissBrainProblems

    MissBrainProblems Making the rounds.

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    A/N: Would you believe me if I told you that Taylor's first game of Ransack was supposed to only take a single chapter?

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    Chapter 4: Victories

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    As we continued to make our way through the next half of the dungeon, I managed to become comfortable enough with whacking the simpler skeletons and zombies that I could pay attention to some other things I had been ignoring up until that point, and to be able to learn a few things about them. For example, I finally got to understand what Grue and Imp's characters were all about - and there I was going, already calling them by their in-game names, just as the rest of them had been doing. Grue's character, for his part, was what was apparently referred to as a "tank"; he was big, beefy, and could take on a lot of damage. Whenever we went into a new room, he extended out a cloud of black smoke that took "aggro" from most of the enemies, causing them to focus their attacks on him, rather than on the rest of us; he had a lot of health and armor, which meant that he could handle having all of those enemies launch basic attacks against him without any issue. Additionally, his abilities seemed to consist of ways to disable or weaken the enemies, to make them do even less damage, or to make them miss more often. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to have much in the way of sheer offensive ability, most of his damage coming from basic attacks with his single, one-handed sword. Meanwhile, Imp's character seemed to be the heaviest hitter in our current party; she would use an ability that would turn her transparent, before moving up behind an enemy, and launching an attack that killed most things in one hit. While she could absolutely obliterate single targets, though, she still had trouble dealing with large amounts of weaker enemies; I remembered Lisa saying something during the game I watched about how their party didn't have any AoE, and I was understanding how that could easily spiral out of control in a serious issue. Whenever I could, I used my Circle Swing ultimate to take care of "packs" of the smaller targets; having done so of my own volition, I got a few compliments from the rest of my team - my team - at having taken care of business so quickly. I also fiddled around with some of the user interface elements, and eventually found a button that let me see a rough map of how things were going back in Regent's dungeon; the party of bot Heroes hadn't even made it to our miniboss, so we weren't exactly rushed for time no matter what happened.

    Being able to study some of the other stuff in the game didn't mean that the game was getting any easier, of course; if anything, it was getting harder as we pushed forward. Some of the regular enemies began to use AoE attacks of their own, and I had to focus on dodging while also focusing on managing my cooldowns and my stamina while also focusing on just using my basic attacks; I quickly began to realize just how much of a juggling act playing Ransack could become, and I struggled to imagine how much must be going on at the level that the Undersiders normally play at. And then, of course, there were the traps. The AI Overlord apparently either had the kindness or the stupidity to not put any traps in the first half of the dungeon, but it seemed to work overtime in that department for the second half in order to make up for it. Dodging one trap on its own was easy enough - see AoE, move out of AoE - but things got a bit more complicated when there were multiple traps at the same time, or traps intermixed with enemies. For example, one trap that sprung instantly would keep us from moving, while another trap that technically was supposed to be avoidable was triggered on us at the same time; I had to use my Defensive Stance ability to help mitigate the damage that I was going to take no matter what, while Imp and Tattletale had to quaff potions to help recover the health that they had no choice but to lose. Grue had chuckled and made a comment about how the bots apparently weren't that stupid if they could set things up like that. Regent and Imp just sort of grumbled in response, as I hurried to dodge bonefall traps and Flesh Bomber AoEs at the same time.

    When we were what looked to be a few rooms away from the enemy Overlord, the door opened, and Rachel came back in; both I and the rest of the Undersiders tensed up visibly as the butch girl walked the Boston terrier - Bentley, I think his name was? - into the room with her. She didn't look at anyone as she marched her way towards the back, where the five of us were in the middle of the game, looking down at nothing particular on the ground, instead. It was all I could do to manage to focus on both the game in front of me and the quite potential threat making its way over, and I got hit by an AoE that knocked off a healthy ten percent of my HP in the process, eliciting a small curse from me in the process. Rachel appeared to notice my profanity, as she stopped and looked at me and then my computer screen in turn. The girl leaned in close, and I worried about whether or not she was about to make good on her earlier threat to beat my face in if I did anything to her account; Brian looked like he was about to speak up or do something, but a non-committal but also clearly non-aggressive grunt from Rachel seemed to assuage his - as well as my own - concerns about the situation. "Mm." She pulled back from the computer screen, giving me back my personal space, but took a look at the hands on my keyboard and mouse in the process. "You're still looking at the keys too much. You need to develop muscle memory some more. It's making your reaction times slower."

    I couldn't tell how I was supposed to react to that. I was fully aware that I hadn't completely developed a second sense for the game yet - I had been playing it for, according to the in-game timer, only thirty-two minutes so far - so I wasn't sure if she thought she was telling me something that I didn't already know. Was she trying to be helpful with that comment? Or was she just being abrasive just for the sake of being a bit of a bitch to me? I grimaced and look over towards Lisa, who just sort of gave me an apologetic smile and a slight roll of the eyes once she was sure that Rachel wasn't looking. I supposed I had to consider the fact that she didn't yell or scream or punch at me to be some kind of success when dealing with the girl. I had earlier wondered how Brian managed to deal with Alec all the time, but now I was curious as to how everybody managed to deal with Rachel on a regular basis; I felt a little bit lacking in generosity as I thought that, especially since I had only had roughly an hour or less of interaction with her up until that point, but the girl had also threatened to physically assault me over a video game, so I supposed that it balanced out.

    Rachel took a seat at one of the empty chairs, giving Bentley a "Stay." command as she settled in. As we continued forward in the game, the tension from her presence slowly dissolved, until we were mostly back to the way we were before she had returned to the computer lab. Eventually, we came to the entrance of the enemy Overlord's room, and we stopped for a moment so that Tattletale could give me some prep. "Alright, so, I'm pretty sure the enemy Overlord is going to be a Skeleton King, considering what it's thrown at us over the course of this game. The main thing you need to look out for with the Skelly King is that he spawns a bunch of additional enemies, or adds for short. They're weak individually - just like the basic enemies we've been fighting so far - but if we let them build up, they can quickly become a serious issue when we have to deal with them and the Overlord at the same time. So what we need you to do-" Tattle looked at me pointedly, and I suddenly felt the heavy weight of responsibility on my shoulders "-is wait for a sufficient amount of his minions to spawn, while we focus on the big guy himself. Once you feel like they're reaching a critical mass, rush in and use Circle Swing to wipe them all out at once. Grue will try to group them up together for you-" The man in question gave a nod and a grunt of affirmation "-but he can't take their attacks forever. If you're not sure, just ask us." A grin spread on Tattletale's face. "Or I'll just yell at you to do it, one of the two."

    That elicited a small laugh from everybody, including myself. I even saw Rachel give a small smile at the side of my vision, but when I turned towards her to confirm that, she turned her expression into a scowl and a frown; I smiled a little bit in return as I saw her do that, but it seemed to only cause her even more annoyance, as she let out a "Tch." in response. As amusing as I thought Rachel trying to keep up her tough-girl persona was, I turned my attention back to the game, my eyes settling on the elaborate door in front of us, decorated with hundreds of bones to signify what lay beyond. I looked towards Tattletale and Grue, and nodded. "Ready. Let's do this." Grue nodded back to me, and he opened the door into the Overlord's room.

    The music in the game immediately turned into something loud and dramatic, with a choir chanting in the background as we rushed towards the final boss. The Skeleton King himself - again, Tattle had been right on the mark, and I had trouble believing that she wasn't actually psychic - was as large as the Bone Giant from the miniboss room, but was also wearing armor, a glittering crown, and wielded a giant sword the size of Grue's character; the massive creature let out a rattle-y scream - How could skeletons scream, anyways? I wasn't quite sure, but I didn't have time to worry about it. - and met us halfway through our charge. The Skeleton King's rush-down was apparently an attack in and of itself, as all of us took from ten percent of our health in Grue's case to thirty percent of our health in Tattletale's and Imp's case; I quickly used my Healing Potion ability, while Tattle and Imp quaffed regular health potions, before we began our assault on the enemy Overlord.

    While he started out with some standard AoE attacks - including a "conal" sword-swing AoE that was targeted on Grue, which the team captain expertly dodged each time it came out - the "adds" that Tattletale had mentioned began to came out in short order. Out from holes in the walls of the room crawled the basic Skeletal Shamblers that made up most of the meat shielding - bone shielding? - that we had dealt with throughout the dungeon. Grue used his black smoke ability to grab aggro on them, and soon enough he had a small pack of Shamblers whacking weakly at him. They weren't dealing all that much damage on their own, but as Tattle had said, as their numbers grew, so did the rate at which Grue's health began to drop; the fact that he was simultaneously taking hits from the Skeleton King didn't help matters too much, either. He activated an ability that shrouded his character in what looked to be solid darkness, and it managed to reduce the damage he was taking even further, much like my own Defensive Stance ability that I had used a few times; he quaffed a few potions whenever his health dipped below a certain level, since it was clear that there weren't enough Shamblers around for me to use Circle Swing just yet.

    For the mean time, I focused on burning down the Skeleton King's health as much as I could; I was using Heavy Swing and Firebolt, but I was consciously making sure that I had enough SP left to use Circle Swing whenever the time came. Tattletale must have activated some ability, as I saw the damage numbers coming from her character's basic attacks suddenly come out in a larger, more colorful font, with the word "CRIT!" displayed before each number. I had gotten a few critical hits like that, but it seemed like Tattle was getting one every time she attacked; the ability eventually ran its course, but my team mate had managed to deal a substantial amount of damage to the Overlord in the mean time. Imp, in the mean time, continued her pattern of turning invisible and attacking from stealth, delivering a more steady amount of damage but without as much "burst" as Tattletale could manage.

    I returned my focus to Grue, though, and realized that the time for me to act was nigh. I had stayed behind the Skeleton King in order to stay out of the way of the conal AoEs directed at Grue - and also because, apparently, more damage is dealt from an enemy's sides and back - but I quickly moved over towards where the team captain was surrounded by as many Skeletal Shamblers as could fit around his "hitbox"; some of them had even begun to split off from Grue and start running towards the rest of us, which made me certain that I needed to do what the rest of the team was relying on me to do. With the press of a button, my Circle Swing ability went out, and instantly fell all of the Shamblers that had been harassing us. I dodged another of the Skeleton King's sword-swing AoEs, before moving back behind him and continuing my assault; more of his minions were still crawling out of the walls, but it would take a while for them to build back up to that number, and the Overlord was already under half health.

    Over towards the other end of the row of computers, Imp let out a low whistle. "Wow, that was... Actually perfect timing. Are you sure you haven't played Ransack before? Are you smurfing?" The girl smirked at me as she kept whacking down the Skeleton King, but I looked at Tattletale with a confused look on my face.

    "Not the little blue people from the cartoon, no." Tattle kept looking at the screen, but managed to talk to me at the same time. "Smurfing means when like, a really good, high-level player pretends to be a newbie. They usually do it so that they can beat up lower level players with impunity. It's, uhh, kind of a dick thing to do, but I guess some people find it fun." The blonde girl shrugged, as I noted that the Skeleton King was at twenty percent health, and rapidly approaching his death.

    I thought about something for a moment, and decided to ask Tattletale about it. "Should I even save my SP for another Circle Swing? Like, this thing's going to be dead before we get enough Shamblers for me to use it, right?" Tattle nodded, with a bit of a grin. "Yeah, definitely. Just use your Heavy Swing and Firebolt until you run out. That's actually something a lot of lower level players have trouble figuring out, that you don't need to save abilities or resources for things that won't end up happening; so it's honestly pretty good that you already figured that out on your own."

    I blushed a little bit at Tattletale's compliment, but immediately began to use my single-target abilities on the Skeleton King. I did, unfortunately, hear Rachel speak up from behind me. "Don't let it get to your head. It's only your first game, and you're not good at it yet."

    I fumed a little bit and opened my mouth in a start at a response, but Brian spoke up for me. "Rachel. Come on. Give her some credit. You're going to scare her off from playing more, too."

    The sound of Rachel's jacket rubbing together let me know that she had shrugged, before she made another acerbic comment. "It's true, though. And honestly, I don't care if she plays more Ransack or not." The Skeleton King was at only ten percent health now, so I pointedly ignored Rachel's words. I was about to win my first game against Ransack - against bots or not against bots, it didn't matter - and I wasn't about to let her sour the experience for me. I noticed Grue's health starting to drop as the swarm of Skeletal Shamblers started to reach that critical mass again, and once more a few turned towards the rest of us, starting to whack at our characters the same as they had been at Grue.

    Grue spoke up, apparently aware of my increasing concern. "Don't worry, Taylor. Focus the Overlord down, ignore the Shamblers. Just like you said, they won't be able to do enough damage before we kill the Skeleton King." He furrowed his brows a bit, though, as he repeatedly and impotently bashed a key on the computer. "...I am out of health potions, though, so if the rest of you could kill this thing quickly, I'd appreciate it." Five percent. Four percent. Three percent. Grue was at thirty percent health, the rest of us had more than a few Shamblers on us, now. Two percent. One percent. Heavy Swing, then a Firebolt. Dead.

    Massive, golden words exploded onto my screen in a flash of sparks and celebratory explosions. A female announcer's voice called out in a triumphant, louder-than-necessary voice. "VICTORY!" I hadn't actually quite processed what had happened by the time that Tattletale - no, Lisa now, I supposed - wrapped her arms around me in a bigger, tighter hug than the one she had given me before. "Yay! You did it, Taylor! I knew you could!" I looked at her, and then at Brian, Alec, and Aisha beyond her, all of whom were giving me smiles of congratulations.

    "Oh. I won. We won." I let out a breath that I hadn't realized I had been holding in as Lisa separated herself from me. "Wow. That was, uhm, that was..."

    Lisa volunteered a word for me. "Fun? Yeah, it was, wasn't it? And it gets even more fun when you're going up against real people."

    Rachel sidled up behind me at that moment, though, staring down at me in a way that wasn't exactly angry, but was also still far from friendly. "Cool. You won a game against bots. Now give me back my computer." I frowned at the girl's pushiness, but I got out of the chair and took a few steps away from her. Brian let out a sigh at the way Rachel had practically shoved me away from the computer, but he didn't seem ready to confront her over it - I imagined that if he confronted Rachel over every little slight she caused, that he'd be doing nothing but confronting her. Instead, he simply pinched his nose and pulled up the spreadsheet from before; I considered it a bit odd that he even recorded wins and losses against bots, but I didn't question his meticulousness, either.

    Lisa stood up from her own chair, walking over to where I was standing, and giving me a hip bump. "So. You want to play more Ransack, then?" It wasn't a question, so much as a statement. I did want to play more Ransack, and she knew it.

    With a bit of a blush, I nodded, still feeling a bit sheepish at the fact that I had, apparently, fallen in love with the game that I had so derided only a few hours ago; Greg Veder was, apparently, not a good indication of what Ransack was all about, apparently. "Yeah. I want to play more Ransack, yeah. Though, uhh, I'm not quite sure how to go about getting it on my own computer?"

    Brian stood up, having finished inputting our game into his records. "I can head back with you to your place and show you how to set it up, if you'd like." Oh my fucking God, did he even realize what he had just said? How fucking innocent and naive was he, and why did that make him just that more fucking adorable. And why was he saying that while giving me that God damned smile of his?!

    Lisa, the fucking saint, intervened on my behalf; I was fairly certain that I would never have managed to formulate a response to Brian's question for the remaining lifespan of the universe if I had been forced to do it myself, so I thanked my lucky stars that Lisa had my back on this. "Brian. Seriously?" The blonde girl raised her eyebrows, giving him that vulpine smirk. "Did you just invite yourself to a girl's place like that?"

    Brian blushed a little bit as his jaw fell open halfway, while Aisha cackled madly from over where she and Alec were. "Jeez, big bro!" Okay, so they were siblings. Cross that one off my list. "Are you that hard up for the poontang?" Poontang? Poontang? Who the fuck used the word 'poontang'? "I've got some classmates who I can hook you up with, if you really need it that bad."

    Her brother grit his teeth and turned to look at Aisha, taking in and letting out a deep, heavy breath - I only idly noticed the way that his chest heaved up and down underneath his shirt as he did so, letting me see those pectorals of his in action. "Aisha. Shut up." This only elicited another laughing fit from the girl.

    Brian turned back to me and Lisa, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "I, uhh, yeah. Maybe it'd be better if Lisa helps you do that?" I mean, it wasn't as if I didn't want Brian to come back to my dorm room with me, but I had only met the man a couple of hours ago, and I had never even had a boyfriend or any sort of relationship, hell I had never even been kissed, so it would be moving way too fast, and...!

    Once again, Lisa saved me, this time from my own, anxious, mile-an-hour mind. "Yeah, Brian. I think it would be better if I help Taylor get set-up." The blonde girl placed a hand on my shoulder, drawing my attention back to her as she gave me a wink. I nodded dumbly, my mouth hanging half-open as I did so.

    Rachel grunted for a moment, in order to draw our attention to her. "Are we done here?" I felt a small indignation at the fact that she had kicked me off the computer just to want to leave only several minutes later, but I didn't express that annoyance.

    Brian looked at the clock on his computer, and nodded. "Yeah. Aisha has class here soon." He looked pointedly over at his sister, before speaking again. "A class that she is going to attend, and not one that she is going to miss in order to hang out with her friends, correct?"

    Aisha and Alec looked at each other, grinning as they did so. The girl spoke up in a faux-exasperated tone. "Yeees, big bro. I'm gonna go to class, just like you said." Brian furrowed his brows at her in half annoyance, half concern. Aisha let out a small "Tch." before offering an apologetic smile to her brother. "I will actually go to class, yeah. Don't worry, I'm not that irresponsible."

    As Aisha and Alec grabbed their stuff and started heading out together - Brian still looking at the two of them with doubt and worry - I checked my phone for the time; Dad had finally given in to buying me one when I went off to college, since he wanted a way to quickly contact me, even if I only lived half an hour away from our house. Seeing the time displayed on the screen, my eyes went wide and I let out a "Shit!"

    Lisa looked towards me with a knowing expression while Rachel made her way out of the room with Bentley by her side. The blonde girl spoke up, asking "Late for class?"

    I shook my head, but still hurried to grab my stuff. "No, but I might be. I... Shit, I barely paid attention to the time."

    Brian and Lisa both chuckled at that, before the team captain spoke up. "Yeah, it can happen. It's why I make sure to have alarms set for everybody's classes. Can't let any of my team members be late, especially when the Collegiate League has a GPA requirement."

    I didn't really have time to process the information that Brian was mentioning, but Lisa managed to slow me down for a moment as I started to rush towards the door. "Wait! Taylor!" I spun around, fidgeting on my feet as I did so. I really didn't want to be late, not only because I hated being late in general, but also because my American Literature course was my favorite class, with my favorite professor. I felt guilty about wanting to get mad at Lisa, though, when she explained what she was stopping me for. "Where are you staying? I can't come help you set up if I don't know where you live, girl." A vulpine grin, and then. "I mean, I guess I could hack the school database, but I wouldn't want to invade your privacy that much."

    I smiled even as I rapidly dug through my backpack to get a piece of notebook paper and a pen. I scribbled down my dorm room address and handed it over to Lisa, who nodded and stuck it in her own backpack. "I, uhm, I get out from my last class at five, so do you think you could come around six?"

    Lisa nodded, holding out a fist in my direction. I bumped it quickly, before turning back towards the door and waving as I started to run. "See you around six then, Taylor! And nice meeting you!"

    I ran past Rachel, who looked at me strangely, and I ran past Alec and Aisha, who waved at me as I did. I barely managed to return the gesture as I rushed out of the computer department's building, dashing around other students as I made as much time as I could towards the English classrooms. While my body was running like that, so was my mind, going over all of the events of the past few hours. I had... Made friends? Maybe, possibly? Met a really fucking hot guy. Played Ransack for the first time. Made a commitment to play more Ransack? Hell, made a commitment to hang out with these possible new friends some more?

    People always talk about how a person's entire life can change in less than a day. I had never really bought that idea, as it sounded too cliche and corny to be true. But here my life was, having... Not completely changed, I supposed, but I still felt like everything I saw was somehow different compared to before I went into that computer lab, and different in a good, very good way.

    And holy hell, all I could really think about at that point was when I could go and play more Ransack.
     
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  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 5: Foundations
    MissBrainProblems

    MissBrainProblems Making the rounds.

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    Chapter 5: Foundations

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    My American Literature class passed by in a blur. It was my favorite course, and I was doing my best to pay attention, but my head was swimming from all of what had happened over the course of my mid-day break. I was pretty sure that my professor noticed my jitters, as she gave me an odd look more than once over the painstaking, agonizing two hours I had to spend in that room; she even asked me a few pointed questions to drag me out of my day-dreaming, the memories of fighting skeletons and zombies being shoved out of my head by talk of Hemingway and Bradbury. As soon as I offered my analysis of The Old Man and the Sea, though, my mind immediately drifted back to thoughts of Ransack, of what kind of characters I would create, of what kind of dungeons I would create once I could play as an Overlord... Even though I barely had any knowledge of the game to base those fantasies off of. More than anything else, though, I was impatiently staring at the clock on the wall, willing the hands to tick faster as I fidgeted in my seat; I had never understood why there were initiatives to remove clocks from classrooms until that point, but suddenly all of that reasoning about "distracting students" made a lot more sense to me.

    Finally, though, the professor dismissed the class once we had finished up with a short discussion of Faulkner's later works, and I practically tripped on my way from out of my desk as my teacher was giving her closing comments; the woman actually bothered to stop addressing the class to call me out individually and to stop me in my tracks. "Miss Hebert." Feeling anxiety well up in my heart, I turned back to her with an awkward, nervous smile on my face. Shit, had I really offended her that much by my lack of attention today? Somewhat assuaging my concerns, the professor simply gave me a smirk, and offered: "Do be careful on your way home, and I'll see you on Wednesday, Taylor." Being called simply "Taylor" by her felt in much the same way that my Dad would (or my Mom would used to) use my full name when they were angry at me. I sheepishly nodded at her, before rapidly but safely fast-walking out of the classroom.

    I would have to worry about whether or not I had fallen out of her good graces later, though. In spite of my professor's warnings, I picked up speed once I was out of the building, and was in a steady jog back to my dorm soon enough. I was going nearly as fast as when I had been running to my classroom to avoid being late - I thankfully managed to get there a minute before class started - but my rushing this time was of a different sort; at the very least, I didn't have to worry about barging into the middle of a lecture. I finally managed to reach my room, and fiddled with the metal key for several seconds before I actually managed to get it into the lock properly; once I could open the door, I had to take conscious action to make sure that I didn't slam it into the wall.

    My room mate wasn't back yet; she had a class on Mondays and Wednesdays that ran relatively late, letting out at six twenty in the evening. This was probably for the best, considering that I likely wouldn't have been able to concentrate if she had been there. Regardless, though, I threw my backpack onto my bed, not even bothering to get my books and other assorted class materials out of it before sitting down at my desk and turning on my laptop. The machine was... Not exactly top-of-the-line; the Dockworker's Association still hadn't picked up much work, although negotiations to get the ferry back into working order had finally managed to advance for the first time in years. In the end, my Dad and I had been forced to settle for one of the cheaper computers in the store. I had begun to worry during American Literature about whether or not I should have pushed my dad into getting me something beefier, as I honestly couldn't be certain if this piece of junk would even be able to run Ransack at all; Hell, the thing had an average start-up time of five minutes, which I had been led to believe by Greg's ramblings was a seriously unfortunate amount of time.

    Eventually, though, the damned thing finally managed to turn all the way on. I had technically agreed to get the game set-up with Lisa, but she was supposed to be here around six, and looking at my computer's clock, it was only... Five twenty. Yeah, I couldn't wait. I would feel really, really bad when she showed up, but I was way, way too antsy to just sit around for forty minutes. I could probably finish reading Catch-22 (or, technically, re-reading it, as I had already gone through it in high school) to while away the forty minutes, but... No. I hated myself for it, but no.

    I did a quick search for "Ransack game" and immediately found the website I needed - I did do a check to make sure it wasn't a fake or a scam website that had pushed itself to the top result, though, as I wasn't that computer illiterate. There was a lot of information on the front page - stuff about updates, news, tournaments, and so-on - but, thankfully, the "SIGN-UP!" and "DOWNLOAD NOW!" buttons were large, green, and front-and-center. I started the download first - who knew how long it would take on the university's wi-fi, after all - before going to the sign-up page. I entered the typical stuff like e-mail, birthday, et cetera, but I froze up for a moment on the user name it was asking for. The only games I played were casual ones on my phone, and those didn't require me to provide any sort of pseudonym; I'm pretty sure all of my high scores were filed under "thebert1995@zoommail.com", in fact. In that sense, then, I didn't really have any precedent for what to input for a screen name. I supposed that I could just use "thebert1995", but when I compared that to things like "MissTattletale" and "ImpishGrin", it felt so woefully inadequate. Fortunately, I noticed a little bit of fine text next to the input box: "Users are allowed to change their name for free once a year, or they can purchase additional name changes for $9.99." With that, I figured that thebert1995 was good enough for now, and that I would use that free name change once I figured something better out.

    The game download was still in progress by the time I finished the sign-up process and confirmed my e-mail, and I managed to calm down a little bit once I realized that the time until I could play Ransack was entirely out of my control at that point; I still wished that I could have a faster internet speed, though. I opted to spend the time checking a few important things, though, like the grades that were posted online - my World History professor still hadn't posted the midterm grades, the old bastard - and my bank account, which showed November's monthly deposit from my student grants; one benefit of being from a lower income family meant that I got a fair amount of free money for going to school, and I only sometimes spent that on things entirely unrelated to my education.

    Eventually, though, Ransack finished its installation, and some sort of pre-game window popped up - a "launcher", I supposed? I entered my username and password, before pressing the "log-in" button. I winced a little bit as I realized how slowly the game was starting up, but breathed a sigh of relief as it went full-screen and a few informational images popped up. One let me know that the game was running on some sort of graphical engine or another, while an additional one informed me that Ransack itself was produced by a company called "Entity Games"; their logo creeped me out a bit, though, as it looked like some sort of creature out of a Lovecraft story. There was also a few minutes of a cutscene that showed some Hero characters running through a dungeon, fighting off monsters and avoiding traps until finally confronting the Overlord; it ended with the Heroes and the Overlord about to clash, and I supposed that it was a sufficiently dramatic way to get players into the mood for the game.

    Finally, though, I got to the actual game... And immediately realized that, yes, my computer wasn't going to be able to run Ransack, at least not with the current state of things. I looked around for some sort of options button, hoping that I could change things in the game to make it run faster. I breathed a sigh of relief as I found an icon that looked like some sort of cog, and when pressing on it opened up a "SETTINGS" menu. I didn't really understand a lot of the options provided - what the hell was TSAA and HDR and bloom and all of the rest of this arcanery? - but the game thankfully provided a simple set of "presets", including one that turned all of their settings to the minimal value. Another sigh of relief came as I realized that turning the graphics down immediately made my game speed up, albeit at the cost of making everything a lot uglier; I made a mental note to get a part time job and stash away some of my student grants to buy a better computer, at some point, so that I could play this game the way that creators meant for it to be played.

    Once that was taken care of, though, I began to look around for a "PLAY" button... But stopped myself when I looked at the real-time clock that the game had provided me with. It was five fifty, and that meant that Lisa would be here any minute; I really didn't want to make things any worse than I already had by actually getting into a game and not being able to properly greet her because I was busy. Grumbling a bit, I started exploring around the menus the game had. Some other options included being able to modify the sound in a few ways, a profanity filter - which I turned off, of course - some internet and networking settings that I didn't dare fiddle with, as well as the ability to hide the in-game chat. I didn't quite understand that last option, as it seemed to me that there would be no good reason to keep yourself from seeing what the other players were saying; if you weren't in the same room with each other, you'd need to be able to chat through text to be able to cooperate as a team, right? I also found that there were options to play a few tutorials to familiarize yourself with the game, and I made sure to give those a shot, later, to make sure I really learned the game properly; I was especially excited to try out the Overlord tutorial, as watching Rachel play that role - as poorly as it had ended up - made it seem super interesting. I additionally discovered a few in-game manuals that explained the more technical details of Ransack, though a lot of it was going over my head at that point, so I decided to put them away for later.

    And then, at five fifty seven, there was a knock on my door, which I assumed to be Lisa; it was accompanied by a heavenly smell coming from the other side, and I suddenly noticed the gnawing hunger in my stomach that I had somehow managed to forget about until now. I opened up the door a tad sheepishly, as vividly green eyes and a wide, mischievous smile greeted me; more to the point, though, the girl was holding a medium-sized pizza box, the apparent source of the scent that had caused my belly to growl. I immediately felt guilty, though, realizing that Lisa had brought me pizza, while I had foregone our promise by getting myself set up without her.

    Even so, she continued to grin as she spoke up. "Hey there, Taylor! I only realized after you left that I didn't get your phone number - which I am going to get, by the way - so I couldn't call you and ask you what sort of pizza you wanted me to pick up." Lisa opened up the box an inch, to let me see inside. "So I decided to just go with the most inoffensive option: Pepperoni." With a slight frown, she asked me in a stage whisper: "You're not a vegetarian or a vegan or anything, are you?" I shook my head dumbly, my head swimming with the smell of delicious cheese, tomato sauce, dough, and spiced meat. Lisa looked past me into my room, and her eyes settled on what I knew to be my laptop, and the clearly displayed game on its monitor. "Oh-ho? Got started without me, huh?" The question was asked humorously and with that smirk of hers, but I still felt another stab of guilt into my heart.

    Rubbing the back of my head, I shuffled on my feet as I stood in the doorway. "Uhm. Yeah, sorry. I uhh, I know we agreed to do it together, but I... I got impatient. I'm sorry. I... Understand if you want to just leave, or whatever, since this is kind of my fault, and-"

    Lisa shoved the pizza box towards me, and I worried for a moment that she was genuinely angry. Instead, she huffed, raised her eyebrows, and asked: "Taylor. Do you want me to leave? I will if you want me to, but I don't think that you do, do you?"

    Oh, Christ, now I felt even worse, making her feel bad like that. I awkwardly took the pizza in my hands, before shaking my head. "No. I mean, no, I don't want you to leave. I want you to stay, yeah." Biting my lip, I now nodded, making my way into the room and giving Lisa room to enter after me. "I mean, if that's okay with you, Lisa. I-"

    Again, the girl interrupted me, sighing with an exasperated look on her face. "Taylor. It's fine." She gave me a small tap on the cheek, before going over and sitting on my bed. "I really don't mind. I understand the allure of Ransack, and I'm not going to get mad at you for wanting to get in right away." Lisa pointed to my desk chair, and commanded with an authoritative voice. "Now sit down and give me a slice of pizza. And a plate, if you have one, but it's fine if you don't." With a smirk, she added. "And get yourself one, too. Don't think I didn't hear your stomach growling." That got a blush out of me, and the blush got a giggle out of Lisa. All of the earlier anxiety I had melted away, and I took a moment to be glad that a girl like her was making such an effort to be my friend.

    I did, indeed, have set of paper plates ready for occasions just like this - to say that I ate pizza in my room sometimes would be an understatement - and the two of us managed to keep the crumbs off of my desk and my mattress in the process of chowing down on the unhealthy goodness of Papa Tino's pepperoni pizza. Once I had a full slice in my belly, I wiped my fingers off with a napkin and returned to my laptop. "So, as you can see, I managed to get it mostly set-up." I grimaced a little bit as I explained the problem I had gone through earlier. "I had to turn the graphics all the way down, as this hunk of crap isn't exactly built for high-end gaming."

    Lisa nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, Rachel's in a similar situation. We've managed to make it work, though." With a tilt of her head and a smile, she added. "I'm impressed that you got all that figured out on your own, though. Didn't you say something about not usually playing video games? Figuring out graphical settings isn't something most novices can do."

    I shook my head and shrugged. "I mean, I'm fairly experienced with computers, so I can usually figure out a program's options, at least. I had to fiddle around a bit, but I did eventually manage to find it." I started going through some of the other stuff I had managed to discover. "Anyways, I'm guessing that the only class I have unlocked right now is the Adventurer class?" I had tried to look at the other pre-made classes the game had, but all of them were greyed out with a lock and chain around the character model.

    Lisa nodded in affirmation. "Yeah. You unlock a few by doing the tutorials, a few by just playing your first couple of games, and then the rest you can buy with in-game currency you get by playing, or..." The girl's face suddenly turned into an expression of pure disgust. "...microtransactions." Noticing the look of confusion on my face, she elaborated further. "Oh, sorry, umm. Basically, microtransactions are additional purchases inside of a game that you've already purchased or otherwise have ownership in. They're usually much cheaper than the initial purchase price, or otherwise fairly inexpensive, so they're 'micro' transactions." Lisa pointed to my screen for emphasis, before continuing. "Technically, Ransack is free-to-play, and it does need some way to make money, but..." With a sigh, Lisa shrugged heavily, with a great deal of resignation in the motion. "...I just wish that they only charged for cosmetic items, rather than for the classes and booster packs and stuff." I must have still looked pretty thrown-off, as she smiled apologetically and waved the subject off. "That's uhh, some pretty deep and heavy stuff, though, so I'm not going to burden you with that right now." Lisa leaned in for another stage whisper, a conspiratorial look on her face. "Just don't tell Brian I said that, though. We get into pretty bad arguments on the subject. He thinks..." Canceling the stage whisper, Lisa pulled back, giving another sheepish look. "Sorry. I did say I'd stop talking about it. Anyways!"

    I nodded, perhaps a bit dumbly, before turning back to the game. "That's fine. I'm sure I'll figure it out, anyways. But yeah, the other thing is..." My mouse cursor moved up to the play button, which I had noticed - in spite of my first inclination to jump right into things - was actually greyed out. When I hovered over it, red text popped up after a quick second. "Please play the basic Hero tutorials before joining any games." I looked towards Lisa, with a bit of an incredulous look on my face.

    The girl sighed, nodding slowly. "Yeah. Sorry. Entity, they... Oh, sorry, that's the people who make Ransack." I nodded, though I already knew that - I didn't bother to interrupt her, though. "Entity thinks that every new player should have to go through the tutorial, no matter what. Even if they've played other games like it before. It... Most people hate it, yeah, but Entity just refuses to get rid of it." Looking kind of pained, Lisa gave me another apology. "Seriously, sorry. But the first few tutorials are relatively painless and short. We can probably get through them in less than twenty minutes. The more in-depth tutorials take a bit longer, especially the Overlord ones, but we don't have to worry about those right now." Lisa must have remembered something, as a sudden grimace came across her face. "Ah. They, uhh. They also want you to play a few bot games before joining up with other players. For, uhh, training purposes, I suppose." I actually began to felt bad with how guilty Lisa looked. "I'm really, really sorry. I know this seems completely obtuse, but we can get through it fast and have you playing with us in no time, I promise."

    I laughed and put up my hands plaintively. "It's fine, Lisa, don't worry. It's not your fault or anything, and I don't mind some time to get familiar with the game. Even, if, uhh, I already did play a round earlier..." I smiled, and Lisa smiled back, and we both laughed a little bit as I moved my mouse over to where the "TUTORIAL" button was lit up in green.

    Before I could press it, though, my dorm room door opened up. I looked at the real-time clock, and realized that, sure enough, it was six thirty, right about when my dorm mate usually got back - had Lisa and I really already been talking for that long? I frowned a little, and Lisa must have noticed, as her smile turned downward in sympathy; regardless, though, I turned around in my chair to face and greet my room mate, Charlotte Horowitz.

    "Oh." Her eyes went wide for a moment, as if she couldn't believe the scene she was looking at. "Umm. Hi, Taylor. You... Have a friend over?" I knew she didn't mean anything by it, but I still felt an urge to slap her across the face build up. Yes, Charlotte, I had a friend over. I know that you've never, ever seen me in the company of a friend - Greg, as everyone knew, didn't really count - but just imagine. Taylor Hebert, the locker girl, had a friend. She had managed to overcome the four long years of harassment by the Trio and made a God damned fucking friend at university.

    It wasn't fair, I knew. Charlotte didn't have anything to do with my bullying, and it wasn't as if she was alone in being a useless bystander who never did anything to help me. But when the first thing she asked me when she found out my name was "Oh! Weren't you the girl that got shoved into the locker sophomore year?" Yeah, I'm sorry, Charlotte, but I really don't have a very high opinion of you.

    The worst part was that Charlotte was a constant reminder of my time at Winslow whenever she was in the room with me. That was a period of my life that I was trying to put behind me now, but this girl, this fucking girl, was making it that much harder to do so. So, yeah, maybe I tried my best to avoid her whenever possible. Maybe I tried my best to stay out late until I knew she would be asleep. Maybe I tried my best to wake up early and get out of the room before she was up. And yeah, maybe it was unfair to do all of that, just for the sake of being able to keep myself from remembering Winslow and everything that happened there. But Dr. Yamada had told me during our sessions - repeatedly, almost like a mantra - that my mental health came first above almost everything else, and I was making sure that my mental health was coming first above making nice and being friends with my dorm mate.

    Or maybe I was just using that as an excuse to be a bitch towards somebody I was bitter about, I didn't know.

    An awkward, forced smile crossed my face as I nodded towards Charlotte. "Yeah. Is... Is that okay?" Why was I even asking? This was my room, even if Charlotte also lived in it. I could bring friends over if I wanted. I could hang out with cool people like Lisa if I wanted.

    Charlotte returned a look that was as awkward and as forced as my own, before nodding back at me. "Yeah. Umm. That's fine." I saw her sniff the air and look at the pizza box, and I could tell that she was considering asking for a slice. I didn't bother to offer one of my own volition, though; I wasn't feeling anywhere near that generous towards her, to say the least.

    "Okay. Cool." I turned my attention back towards the game as Charlotte dropped off her stuff on her bed. Lisa gave me a concerned look, clearly worried about whatever was going on between me and Charlotte, but I simply shook my head; I felt that Lisa was somebody who I might eventually be able to tell about my past at Winslow, but I also didn't think that such a point would be coming any time soon, either. Instead, I took a few deep breaths, practicing the breathing exercises that I had been taught, before opening my eyes and nodding confidently at my friend. With a smile, Lisa nodded back, and I clicked on the tutorial button, while doing my best to ignore Charlotte behind me.

    As the game began to load up the map, I turned towards Lisa and started asking about some other parts of the game that I had noticed earlier. "So, what's up with disciplines? I saw those earlier, and they looked pretty important, but I didn't really get the time to learn about them, either."

    Lisa nodded as she began playfully kicking her feet where they were hanging off my bed, an inch above the floor. "Yeah! You'll learn about disciplines in a later, optional tutorial you can do, but they are pretty important, like you figured. Basically, think of them like a color palette for a painting you're doing..." An odd, somewhat unfamiliar sensation began to come over me as I sat there and listened to Lisa talk my ear off, a feeling that I hadn't known since middle school, I vaguely remembered. It was warm, relaxing, comfortable, and most of all, it was safe, so very, very safe.
     
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  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 6: Connections
    MissBrainProblems

    MissBrainProblems Making the rounds.

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    Chapter 6: Connections

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    That tutorial was not telling me anything that I didn't already no, and my eyes had already begun to glaze over a minute into the instructional lecture. Click to move. Put your mouse on the edge of the screen to shift the camera. Press the button to use an ability. Yes. Yes, I already knew that.

    Lisa must have noted my annoyance, as she let out a small, sympathetically humorous snort, and granted me the mercy of small talk while I trudged my way through the tutorial game. "So..." The girl motioned over towards the shelves on my side of the dorm room, and the dozens of fiction books that sat upon it. "I'm guessing you're some kind of English major, then?"

    I nodded, turning to look directly at Lisa as I spoke; it wasn't like I needed to pay much attention to the game at that moment, anyways. "My... My mom was an English major, too, and she got me really into books when I was little. She even, uhm." I paused a moment, frowning, before speaking again. "She used to teach here, actually." Lisa seemed to have picked up on the implications I placed in my words, so she didn't press that subject any further. I additionally noticed Charlotte out of the corner of my eye, doing some sort of homework over on her bed; I found myself slightly annoyed at the fact that someone like Charlotte was listening in on a conversation like that, but I returned my focus to Lisa rather than say anything. "What about you? What are you majoring in? Er, if I can ask?"

    Lisa laughed a little bit as she idly looked over at my laptop's screen. "No, Taylor, you can't ask what I'm studying. How dare you." Her tone of voice was so convincing that - even in spite of the previous laugh - I wasn't sure if she was actually mad at me or not. Lisa's response to my worry was a pair of raised eyebrows and an incredulous look. "Taylor." One word was all she needed to affirm the fact that she had, in fact, been joking, and that I had, in fact, been anxious over nothing. I blushed a little bit, but Lisa just smiled and answered my question in a soft voice. "I'm studying psychology. I want to be a therapist, actually." It was my turn to raise my eyebrows at that point, my mouth hanging slightly ajar as I considered her statement. Another one of her looks, and she did actually seem just the tiniest bit offended that time. "What? Do I not seem like a good fit to be a therapist?"

    I began to flub my words as I tried to formulate a proper response. "Wuh? No, that's not what I... Er, sorry, I meant more like... Uhm."

    Over in the game, I could hear the female voice of the announcer starting to chastise me. "No, not like that. Attack the enemy from behind, this time."

    Back in real life, Lisa spoke to me in a similar tone of voice. "Taylor. We're going to do something about that, you know?" The look of confusion on my face prompted Lisa to continue. "We're going to get you to stop worrying all the time. It's adorable to watch, but I can't imagine it's very fun for you, either." For a moment, I worried that Lisa had this goal in mind just because I was annoying her with my constant anxiety, but as I looked at her face and the gentle, caring expression on it, I could tell that she was actually, genuinely thinking of my own well-being.

    With a dumb nod towards Lisa, all that I could really think at that moment was: Mom, where-ever you are, thank you for sending me this green-eyed angel.

    Calming myself down, I returned back to the tutorial, which actually needed most of my attention for a moment. Taking Lisa's words as permission to go ahead, I inquired further as to her chosen career path: "So, uhm. Why do you want to become a therapist, anyways? I know people usually say like, that they want to help people, and stuff like that, but I'd rather not, y'know, rather not assume."

    Lisa had grabbed another one of the pizza slices from the box - we only had a few left, by that point - and had to wait a few seconds to swallow her food before continuing. "Well, that's... Basically the gist of it, yeah." With a shrug and a smile that I could tell was hiding something, she simply said: "I just want to help people, I suppose." Lisa had the grace to not dig into my own sensitive subject when I brought up my mom, so I wasn't about to pry into her own personal affairs, either. I'd take her at her word, for now, that she just wanted to be able to help people; if she wanted to tell me more at some later point, then she could, but I wasn't going to force anything out of her, either.

    Then, something I hadn't expected to happen occurred. Lisa turned towards my room-mate, and spoke up. "What about you, umm... Sorry, I don't think I caught your name?" The blonde girl spoke with that sweet, apologetic smile of hers, and I could feel my blood pressure tick up a little bit. Why was she talking to Charlotte? She knew that I wasn't enamored with my room mate, so why...?

    The other girl looked like a deer caught in the headlights as Lisa addressed her; it actually took her a few good seconds before she worked up the nerve to respond. Typical fucking Charlotte, really. "Oh, umm... My name's Charlotte."

    Lisa stepped off of my bed and strode the few steps over to where Charlotte's was, and extended a hand out in greeting. "Nice to meet you, Charlotte. I'm Lisa. So, what are you studying? I guess that's kind of the 'How's the weather?' for college students, isn't it?" Lisa smirked, Charlotte giggled, and I actually felt a moment of humor that I did my best to bury in the bitterness I always felt when I was aware of Charlotte's presence.

    "Oh, umm. I'm studying early childhood education. I want to be like, a kindergarten or a pre-school teacher, or something like that. Sorry, I know that's kind of silly, and it's not nearly as cool as like, wanting to be a therapist, and stuff..." Charlotte shrunk back on her bed, hiding her face behind one of her textbooks. I gripped my mouse harder, clicking on the tutorial enemies with greater fervor in an attempt to channel my annoyance. Yeah, you're just a sheepish, scared little brat, aren't you, Charlotte? Makes sense you'd only want to deal with children.

    And why was Lisa bothering to talk with her, anyways?! "Hey, not at all, that's super cool. Someone's has to raise the next generation, right? And you seem like you'd be really good at it." Charlotte smiled from out behind her book, muttering a small thanks before Lisa turned back to me. "Honestly, you and Taylor seem a lot alike." CLICK CLICK CLICK! My dorm mate must have noted my frustration, as she pulled a bit further back again. Lisa, however, didn't let up. "You both seem like really nice people, but you both have some of those confidence issues, you know? No offense, of course." The blonde girl walked over to me, giving that damnable vulpine smile as she leaned against my desk. "If anything, having confidence issues shows that you spend a lot of time thinking of how you could be a better person." Lisa looked from me, and then back to Charlotte. "So once you two manage to work through that kind of stuff, I'm sure that you'll really grow as people as a result." My nose was flaring as my eyes focused at nothing in particular on my game. Why the fuck was Lisa comparing me to Charlotte? And why the fuck was she continuing to do it when she could clearly tell that it was pissing me off? For a moment, I began to reconsider having Lisa as a friend, even if it meant that I would go back to being alone.

    ...and then the fucking girl shoved a slice of pizza into my mouth, before casually dismissing the whole conversation away. "But enough of that heavy stuff. We're here to have fun, right, Taylor?" I angrily chewed on the pizza, but quickly discovered that it was fairly difficult for one to remain angry when chowing down on Papa Tino's. I still made sure to glare up at her to let the girl know that I wasn't exactly happy with what she had pulled, but Lisa just offered a tilt of her head, a smirk across her face, and a shrug, before speaking up again. "Right, Taylor?"

    I swallowed a bit of my pizza loudly, sighing before speaking. "Yeah, Lisa. We're here to have fun. I think this stupid fucking tutorial is almost over, anyway." Verbally taking my aggression out on the game helped me calm down a moment, though Charlotte's voice piquing up again almost reset my anger back.

    "Umm." That stupid, meek little chirp she had. "I need to get back to my homework now, but... It was nice to meet you, Lisa!"

    Lisa responded to my dorm mate with one of her more genuine smiles, accompanied by a nod. "Nice to meet you too, Charlotte." Another one of the more snarky grins to me, though, as I finally finished up the tutorial.

    I was thankful to be able to focus on the game again, and I was doubly thankful that it had deigned to unlock a few of the pre-set classes for me after I finished the tutorial. "Soldier, Wizard, and Rogue... Wow, that's a classic trifecta, isn't it?" I didn't have to have had play many video games to recognize those three archetypes as a classic in fantasy stuff, since they occurred in books and films and TV shows often enough, as well.

    Lisa let out a little chuckle as she nodded in affirmation. "Yep. Even when you get the more advanced classes, the game tends to operate off of that basic trinity. You'll have Battlemages, Scoundrels, Spellswords, Shadowdancers... A lot of it is basically different combinations of those three foundational classes."

    I hummed in acknowledgement as I looked at the three characters I had unlocked. They were all male, by default, but there was an option to switch them to female, which I clicked the moment I saw; besides the comfort of being able to play characters of my own gender, the female designs seemed a heck of a lot cooler, anyways. Aside from the aesthetic options available to me - I noted that there were "skins" I could spend a few real dollars on for the characters, that changed their appearance in various ways - I also noted something that seemed fairly important on each of them. "What is this 'Role' thing? The wizard is ranged, the rogue is melee, the soldier is the tank... That all makes sense, and I think you said Brian's character was a tank, but, like, what does it mean?"

    Lisa nodded, before going into her 'lecture mode'; I sat back and prepared for her explanation, smiling in anticipation. "So, a good party in Ransack needs to be balanced, typically needing one of each of the roles. There's ranged, melee, and tank that you've noticed, but there's also the support role, which can either heal their party members or otherwise provide some sort of non-offensive utility, such as buffing, err, increasing the stats of friendly characters, making them take less damage, and so on. Ranged and melee exist to provide sheer offensive power. In general, though not exclusively, ranged tend to provide magic damage while melee provide physical damage; having a variety of damage types is pretty crucial, as an Overlord can stop a one-damage-type party dead in its tracks by just placing enemies that are almost completely resistant to that particular damage type." I nodded, and noticed that it was becoming increasingly easier for me to understand what Lisa was talking about with each lecture she gave. "There are totally physical ranged classes, though, like the Archer or the Hunter, and there are totally magic melee classes, like the Spellsword I mentioned. In general, ranged classes tend to have some degree of support abilities, too, but aren't nearly as devoted to that as, well, full-on support classes." My quite brilliant teacher motioned her plate towards my garbage can, and I gave a nod before she tossed it in there. Wiping her fingers with a napkin, she continued. "Tanks are like what you saw with Grue. He's there to take the hits and the damage so that nobody else has to, and the fact that he has higher armor and greater damage resistance means that there's actually less damage going out from the enemies altogether. They also tend to have a lot of abilities based around disabling enemies, by decreasing their accuracy - making them miss more - making them do less damage, or stunning them - keeping them from doing anything."

    The blonde girl took a deep breath - she had, apparently, actually run out of air while giving me her explanation. "Anyways, even when you start making your own custom characters, the game will automatically assign you one of those roles based on the abilities that you have slotted. Have a lot of tank abilities, get labeled as a tank, have a lot of melee abilities, get labeled as melee, et cetera. The role label isn't important just for your own reference, though. Once you get to playing ranked games-" Wait, once I got to playing ranked games? Did Lisa have that many expectations for me? "-if you queue in by yourself - that is, if you try to play without a pre-made party or a team - then you'll be matched up with other players based on what role you have. If you're a melee, then you'll get matched up with a tank, a ranged, and a support, for example." I nodded again; balance like that made sense.

    She tapped her chin with a finger, tilting her head as the cogs in her extra-large brain continued to work. "I... Think that's all I need to tell you about roles? Yeah, sounds about right. If I remember anything else, I'll mention it later."

    I heard Charlotte's voice again from her side of the room, and did my best to not let it sour my mood again. "Wow. That's... Complicated. Jeez. I never knew a video game could have so much... Depth, and stuff."

    Lisa responded to my dorm mate, and this time I did furrow my brows a bit. "Yeah, I know, right? Most people who don't play Ransack probably just see it as a bunch of pretty colors and stuff, but there's a lot that goes into it. Oh, uh, we aren't keeping you from being able to do your work, are we?" Why did you care, Lisa? It was just fucking Charlotte. We're here to hang out. She can fucking deal with it.

    I could see out of the corner of my eye as Charlotte shook her head. "No, it's fine! Honestly, I'm just getting a bit ahead of myself with reading, it's not all that important." Nuh nuh nuh, it's not all that important, nuh nuh nuh. Just shut up, I'm trying to play my game here.

    Lisa smiled again, giving the other girl a nod. "Alright, sounds good. Just let us know if we're causing trouble though, yeah?" Again, another one of those vulpine smiles. What in the name of God was Lisa even doing?

    With a sigh, though, I turned back to the game - again - and cycled through the characters to the Wizard. "This one seems cool. I always liked the wizards in fantasy stuff, anyways, so playing as one sounds like it'd be fun. Blasting skeletons with lighting especially seems cool..."

    The girl next to me laughed and nodded. "Yeah, I have a few builds that are more magic-centric, and I can say that I have a lot of fun with those sort of characters. If nothing else, you'll only have wasted a short hour in a bot game if you end up not liking that class."

    I nodded in return, and once I was sure that I had everything set up properly, I pressed the "PLAY" button, which was colored green now that I had finished the basic tutorials. A handful of minutes of loading later - longer than it necessarily needed to be, I knew - and I was in my first actual game on my own account, albeit where all of the other "players" were just bots; I did have to start somewhere, I supposed. I did turn off the auto-level function, though, as I wanted to figure out how it worked on my own a bit more. As I marched through the dungeon with my AI companions, I eventually got my first level-up, and I saw a glowing plus sign light up on a few parts of my user interface, or "heads-up-display", as I had earlier learned from Lisa.

    "Alright, so, my skills..." I moused over each of the icons for my abilities, reading them off as I did. "Firebolt, just like the Adventurer, and I had that unlocked at level one. Cone of Frost, dealing cold damage and... Slowing enemies that are hit?" I looked over to Lisa, since the tooltip didn't explain the effect that 'slowing' caused.

    "Slowing means that they move slower and use their auto-attacks slower." The blonde girl had her attention focused directly at something on my screen, and had scrunched her eyebrows together. "...what the hell? The... The Bert? Taylor, you didn't tell me you were a Muppets fan!" A laugh accompanied her statement, and I felt my cheeks blushing hard and hot.

    It wasn't the first time somebody had pointed out the other way that my screen name could be read; it was just too much of a pain to change my e-mail to something else, and the school even used that as my username, so I figured... "No, it's like. My first name is Taylor, right? And my last name is Hebert? So like, Tee, and then Hebert."

    Lisa let out an "Oooh. That makes sense." before looking at me pointedly with a raised eyebrow. "You are going to use the free name change, right?" An elbow into my shoulder, as that grin widened. "Right, The Bert Nineteen Ninety Five?"

    I took my hand off of my mouse momentarily to playfully slap at her knee. "Yes, yes, I will! I just need to figure one out! You and the Undersiders all have really cool names, so I want something cool, too!"

    My friend smiled and giggled again, before nodding. "Yeah, yeah, I understand. If you can't think of one, though, just let me know, and I'll help you."

    Still frowning a bit, I continued looking at my skills. "Chain Lightning, does shock damage, jumps to other enemies... That makes sense. Arcane Well, restores stamina points... That's useful, but has a long cooldown. Makes sense. And, uhh, Magick Storm, does... AoE true damage?" Again, I looked towards Lisa for clarification.

    With another nod, my friend explained. "So, I told you that some enemies can resist certain damage types, right? Well, nobody can resist true damage. It always deals one hundred percent, no matter what. It's super strong, to say the least, but that's why ultimates like Magick Storm cost so much and have such a long cooldown."

    I nodded in response, going to another part of my HUD; thankfully, being in a bot-only game allowed me to pause the game with impunity, so I had all the time in the world to figure this stuff out. "Alright, disciplines. So we've got Flame, Cold, Shock, Arcane, and Magick... Wow, uhh, these are all basically named after the abilities, aren't they?" Lisa nodded and smiled, while I hovered over the plus buttons next to each discipline. "So, leveling up flame increases Firebolt damage, makes sense... Same with Cold and Cone of Frost and Shock and Chain Lightning, alright... Oh, but leveling up Arcane decreases the SP cost for all of the abilities? Neat, that's cool. And increasing Magick decreases the cooldown for all of the others, while buffing the damage for Magick Storm." I nodded, crossing my arms. "Wow, that's not as bad as I thought it was. Pretty self-explanatory, I suppose."

    I finished off the last slice of pizza as I looked over towards Lisa, who had... An odd expression on her face, sadness? She made a mock crying sound, wiping away non-existent tears from her eyes before speaking. "Oh, my little girl grows up so fast. Look at her, understanding disciplines all on her own. And here I was hoping I could give her another lecture." I nearly choked on the water I was using to wash down my food, which only elicited another laugh from my friend. "But no, seriously, I'm glad you got that figured out. It's actually always good to see people picking that stuff up fast." A seriously nasty grin spread on her face that time. "Just means we'll get you to ranked all that much faster."

    I coughed to clear out my throat, before tossing my plate and the pizza box into my trash bin. "Seriously, I don't know if I'll be ready for ranked any time soon. That seems... Super competitive. Way out of my league. Especially seeing how you guys play." I used my first level up to unlock Cone of Frost, figuring that it would be good to have two abilities I could use, one while I waited for the other to come off cooldown.

    Lisa tilted her head and kicked her feet again as I continued through the dungeon; it was about as "expertly" designed as the one I had played through with the Undersiders, but this one was filled with goblins and orcs rather than skeletons and zombies. "I'm seriously, Taylor. Don't think I didn't see how into the game you got when we were playing. And then you installed it and booted it up all on your own?" The teasing tone she used caused me to blush yet again. "Casual play is plenty fun, Taylor, but I think you're the type of person who'd only really enjoy the game at a competitive level." I didn't think that her smirk could get any more evil, and yet it somehow managed to. "Maybe you can even reach the professional level, like me?"

    I scoffed, shaking my head as my party and I reached the miniboss door. I had unlocked all of my skills, having just added Magick Storm to my repertoire, and had put most of my other points into my Arcane and Magick disciplines; being able to spam my abilities with a relative level of impunity felt pretty great, to say the least. "Don't even joke about that." I furrowed my brow a bit as the room for the miniboss opened, and a giant troll revealed itself. "I... Especially don't know if I could handle the kind of stress you guys have to go through. I saw what happened with Rachel and Brian, and I can't even imagine what it's like when there's actual money on the line..." My computer-controlled party rushed in on the miniboss, while I stood back and started flinging spells and using a magic wand for basic attacks.

    Lisa frowned, an expression of deep thought on her face. "Yeah, we... We do fight a lot, I guess. That is kind of part of how professional play goes. It's... It's a career for people, or at least a potential career. There's as much stress in it as any other job you could have." The dour look on her face turned up a little bit as she continued. "But... There's a lot of enjoyment in it, too. Sure, when we lose, we get upset, but when we win..." The girl's eyes lit up, now, and I saw something in them that I didn't think I had ever seen in another person up until that point. "When we win, it's amazing. You think Brian and Rachel got intense with each other when they lose? When they win, it's even more so, but the exact opposite of what you saw before. It might look like Rachel doesn't respect Brian, and it might look like Brian can barely stand her, but... I don't think that could be further from the truth." There was something in her voice, too, that was entrancing me as she spoke. "They respect each other, more than you can even imagine. Brian respects her stubborn, fiery, relentless attitude, and Rachel respects the way that he manages to wrangle a bunch of fucking nerds together into a cohesive, functional, and honestly? Quite damn fucking successful team." The smile on her face was wide, so wide I thought it would tear apart, and there was not the slightest trace of the facetiousness she carried around so much of the time. This was Lisa, at what seemed like might have been her most happy. "I love it, and I wouldn't give it up for anything."

    A loud noise shook me out of my reverie and returned my attention to the game. "Fuck!" The curse was so loud that I heard a squeak of fear from Charlotte, and even Lisa nearly fell off from my bed. I was so focused on what Lisa was saying that I hadn't been paying attention to the troll miniboss or what he was doing, and a charge attack from him had splatted my Wizard all over the wall of his room. "Shit, fuck, God damnit. Sorry." The last word I directed at Lisa, and marginally at Charlotte, as well; even if my dorm mate caused me so much frustration, she didn't deserve being spooked by my sudden outburst like that.

    Lisa's hand went to my shoulder, rubbing it gently. "Don't worry, Taylor. It happens to the best of us. Just respawn and get back in there, yeah?" I nodded and grumbled, but began the long trek back to the miniboss room, where my AI team mates were still fighting the troll.

    By the time I got there, they had already defeated the miniboss, and were already moving on without me, fighting a pack of armored orcs in the next room that were accompanied by a few goblin shamans that were casting Hexes of Blindness on my party, causing them to miss most of their auto-attacks. With a sigh, I moved to try to catch up to them, speaking towards Lisa as I did. "Yeah. Professional Ransack for me. Sure."

    Lisa smirked and chuckled, patting my shoulder again. "Like I said, it happens. You're new, you were distracted. Don't let it get you down." With the sparkle in Lisa's eyes and the residual energy from her impromptu speech, I indeed felt like I couldn't let it get me down. I trudged onwards, meeting up with my AI team mates.

    Several dungeon rooms later, and my party and I were at the entrance to the Overlord's lair. I looked towards Lisa a bit, silently wondering if she knew what lay beyond, but the blonde girl simply smiled and shrugged her shoulders; I guessed that she was going to let my find out for myself. The door was painted in red, skulls and axes and other images messily drawn onto it; the entrance slowly slid open, debris falling from the ceiling as the dungeon around us rumbled.

    The Overlord announced himself with a bellowing, spittle-flying roar, and large fonted letters in the middle let me know his identity: "ORC WARCHIEF". The Warchief wore animal skins and haphazard pieces of metal plating, wielded a giant axe in each hand, and had a necklace made of skulls dangling from his neck. Yeah, I was gonna stay a long ways away from this guy, and let my bot team mates deal with whatever up-close-and-personal shit the Overlord wanted to deliver. The bots themselves seemed to be a Soldier, a Rogue, and a Priest; the former two rushed in, the Soldier "taking aggro", while the Priest held back with me and cast spells to heal the Soldier, buff all of us, and deal a moderate amount of damage to the Warchief. For my part, I simply ran around and dodged AoEs while spamming my abilities whenever they were off cooldown. With my Arcane discipline leveled to maximum, I could essentially use Firebolt as frequently as I wanted; I opted to ignore Chain Lightning since there were no adds to deal with so far, and Cone of Frost's slowing effect apparently didn't work on minibosses or Overlords very well. I did drop Magick Storm when I could, though, and the feeling of watching the Warchief's health drop by 10% from a single hit was absolutely satisfying. Yeah, I liked the Wizard. I liked it a lot.

    Lisa informed me that in a real match with other, real players, the Overlord was controlled by the actual Overlord player, as opposed to the dungeon enemies and the miniboss, which were always controlled by the computer; in that sense, then, these fights against AI Overlords were probably much easier than they should have been. I didn't mind, though, especially not after my completely stupid death to the troll earlier in the dungeon. I was content to blast away at the Warchief and watch his health whittle down to nothing over the span of some minutes. I will admit that watching him finally die and getting the "VICTORY!" screen on my game wasn't... As satisfying as it had been last time, since I knew that I could probably take on a more difficult opponent, but... Well, I supposed that I could increase the bot difficult for the next game, since apparently Ransack wanted me to play even more bot games before it would let me go with real players. Blegh.

    Once I had made it past the end-game statistics screen - which I did take a fair amount of time to look over, as all of the details there were pretty interesting - I was presented with a "REWARDS" screen, one I hadn't had after I had won the game I played on Rachel's account. The first thing that was shown to me was that I had unlocked the "Priest" class, which I was vaguely interested in trying out; being able to support my team mates sounded fairly enjoyable, though it would be hard to trump blasting things away with magic spells like I had been able to do on the Wizard. The next thing I saw large, glowing, golden chest was presented on a platform, and the sound effects coming out from it made me want to click it.

    "Oh, yeah, I forgot the game gives you some free lootboxes when you're starting out." Lisa was watching the screen, and I noticed a bit of excitement in her eyes. She pushed my shoulder and urged me onwards. "It should give you a free class, I think. Go on, open it, see what you got! C'mon, open it!"

    She was like a little kid at Christmas, and I couldn't help but laugh at her enthusiasm. "Alright, alright, I'm opening it, jeez!" I had to admit, though, that I felt anticipation welling up in me as my mouse cursor moved over towards the chest. What would I get, I wondered? The Spellsword Lisa had mentioned? A Barbarian, maybe? Something else?

    I clicked the chest, and it made a rumbling animation, like something inside was struggling to get free. The next second, the chest burst open, with a rather loud and complex fanfare, the screen glowing gold as something flew out of the container and landed in the foreground of my screen. "LEGENDARY!" The female announcer shouted in a loud voice, enough to make me flinch in my seat.

    "Holy shit!" The profanity from Lisa was enough to let me know that whatever I had been rewarded with, it must have been something really, really cool. "I've never fuckin' seen someone get a Legendary on their first lootbox. Did you make a deal with the fuckin' devil or something, Tay?"

    I chuckled, shaking my head. "No, I'm pretty sure that I didn't, Lisa." As the sudden shock of the situation faded, I was able to take a look at my prize. It was a class, sure enough, and it looked fucking cool. A woman, in a long, flowing black dress, with equally long, flowing black hair covering one eye. She had ample cleavage exposed - which momentarily made me feel quite inadequate - but the most shocking thing were the creatures not only surrounding her but also climbing on her. Spiders, centipedes, flies, hornets, and all other sort of creepy-crawlies. I... Didn't really like bugs, but the way that the woman confidently let a tarantula rest on the back of her hand, looking at it with loving, adoring eyes... Yeah. Yeah, I liked this character. I looked up at the text above her, the label, displaying her name.

    "SWARM QUEEN".
     
    a2znut likes this.
  7. YuriSubtext

    YuriSubtext Know what you're doing yet?

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    Mooooooaaaaaarrrr.

    Also I think your threadmark is a little screwy. Chapter 3 & 6 are switched.
     
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 7: Discoveries
    MissBrainProblems

    MissBrainProblems Making the rounds.

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    Chapter 7: Discoveries

    ------------------------

    Lisa had actually begun to frown a little bit as she looked at the Swarm Queen character I had unlocked, and I wasn't quite sure why. Was she jealous? No, I doubted that Lisa hadn't already unlocked basically everything in the game, if she was a professional player. I raised my eyebrows towards her, silently asking her what the expression she wore was about.

    My friend grimaced just the tiniest bit as she began to explain. "Unlocking a Legendary on your first lootbox is cool and all, but the Swarm Queen is..." Was this amazing, beautiful-looking lady actually not a good character? I idly noticed that there was a genderswap button for the Swarm Queen, too, changing it from her female form to the Swarm King instead. Hi design was... Elaborate, and nice to look at, but not nearly as appealing to me as the Queen's was; besides, I'd probably be more comfortable playing a female character, anyways. I changed the character back to the woman as Lisa spoke up again. "...she's complicated. As in, she's really hard to play, and there's a lot going on with how her abilities work. There's a lot of micro to her, and- Err, sorry. Micro means like, when you have to do a lot of really precise clicking and button pressing all the time. A lot of multi-tasking, and I mean like, a lot of it. She's just..." Lisa sighed, her shoulders dropping as she shook her head. "She's just not the best character for a beginner, I suppose. Sucks that you got a Legendary and it ended up being a Hero with such a high skill floor."

    I stared at the Swarm Queen and watched the way that her insectoid and arachnid minions scurried and flew and crawled around her. I watched the way that she confidently smirked as she casually tilted her head and looked around the area, a strong self-assurance flowing off of her as she did. She gave off a feeling of... Power, in more ways than just one. It wasn't just that she had control over all of those bugs - and God only knew what sort of in-game abilities she had to use them with - but also that she knew she had that control, and reveled in it; she knew she had that power, and it made her feel good to have it.

    In many ways, I vaguely supposed to myself, the Swarm Queen was the exact opposite of who I was. Had I really unlocked a character like her just to be told that I wouldn't, shouldn't, couldn't be allowed to play her? I knew that Lisa had said what she did for my sake, that she didn't want me to dive headfirst into the proverbial deep-end and get scared off by an overly complicated class, maybe even to the point of quitting Ransack altogether. After all, I had only played two matches of the game so far, and both of them had been against bot opponents; I knew that I likely didn't have the skill to properly play the Swarm Queen yet, but...

    I gave a half-smile towards Lisa and offered a small nod. "Yeah, that makes sense. But I guess that's what bot games and the training arena are for, yeah?" I wanted to play this character. I wanted to feel the way she did, at least for the span of a Ransack game, even if it was only against computer-controlled opponents. Even if she was "too complicated" for me, even if she required too much "micro", I wanted to play her, and I was going to.

    Lisa's frown reversed as she nodded back. "Yeah! Sorry, Taylor, I didn't mean to be a downer. Won't hurt to take her for a test drive in a bot game, yeah." The blonde girl pulled out her phone and checked the time, before letting out a "Tch." and speaking further. "Ahh, jeez, I guess I better get going." I looked at the real-time clock in my game, and it had actually managed to get really late between chatting with Lisa, going through the tutorial, and playing that first bot game. Lisa spoke up before I could say anything. "Before I go, though, Tay, two things." She held out an index finger and a middle finger, punctuating her words. "First, phone number. So that I can ask you what kind of pizza you want next time." My friend gave me a huge grin, one that I couldn't resist returning as I gave her my contact information. "Alright, cool. Second thing. Do you want to come watch us play a match this Saturday?"

    Lisa's smile was different at that point, and I myself stood there somewhat dumbly as I processed her words; I idly noticed Charlotte paying attention to our conversation over from her side of the room, but I didn't have the bother to worry about her at that moment. "W... Wuh? Tournament? I mean, I know you said you guys play professionally, but..." But what, Taylor? I didn't actually know what I was struggling with. Being invited to be in such a serious, confident space when I was still a complete rookie at the game? Being invited to an albeit unconventionally intimate environment when I was a relative outsider and newcomer? "I, uhm..."

    Before I could futz around any further, Lisa sort of nudged me out of the way of my laptop for a moment with a small smile. "Here, let me show you." The blonde girl clicked through the game on my screen with amazing dexterity, but I only had a moment to be impressed before she pulled up a window labeled with gold-fonted text. "BROCKTON BAY COLLEGIATE EXHIBITION MATCH".

    Oh god, it really did look professional. Each of the two teams were aligned in a column on either side of the screen, with their names and player icons displayed on top of an elaborately designed game window. On the left side were the Undersiders, whose team icon was their name fonted in what looked vaguely like the graffiti tag of some sort of street gang; I wasn't exactly enamored by the aesthetic, but I had to admit that it looked like a lot of work had gone into it. Directly below the team icon was Brian's profile - Eaten_By_A_Grue - with "TEAM CAPTAIN" emblazoned above it; I noticed that his avatar was of a man wearing a skull-emblazoned motorcycle helmet, like out of some sort of edgy comic book. Below that were the other members of the Undersiders, in alphabetical order based on their profile names. ImpishGrin, Aisha, had an avatar featuring a grinning demon, which I momentarily noted fit her quite well. King_Regent, Alec, had an picture featuring a Venetian mask. MissTattletale, Lisa, had a stylized eye symbol for her avatar. Finally, xHellhoundx, Rachel - it took me a moment to realize that the game had sorted her by the "x", and not by the "H" - wore an image of a dog as her icon. There were some numbers positioned around all of the Undersiders' icons, which I couldn't quite place, but I assumed to be something involving win/loss ratios of some sort; I wasn't quite sure what a "good" ratio of wins to losses was for Ransack, but the fact that everybody seemed to at least be above fifty percent seemed like a good sign.

    I was significantly less impressed when my eyes went to the right side of the screen to take a look at the team that was going to be the Undersiders' opponents. For the enemy team's icon was displayed in Comic Sans - Comic fucking Sans - the words "This Is Epic". Below that was a player avatar featuring... A troll face, merciful God, a troll face; the player's name was, apparently "L33tMan", which filled me with a sudden urge to punch my laptop; I wasn't as involved with video games and internet culture as other people like the Undersiders were, but I understood that piece of slang either way, and it made me fucking cringe when I saw it. Below L33tMan was "TheBrycinator", and then "EraserHead", followed by "UberMan", and finally XxVoid_CowboyxX; what the hell was with people putting superfluous X letters in their usernames, anyways? All of the other players' profile images also ended up causing me some sort of psychological pain to one degree or another, and by the time I turned to look at Lisa, I was sure that my expression was one of complete and utter torment. "Lisa." My friend tilted her head, showing that she was listening. "I don't know any of these people. I've only known that they've existed for about a minute now. But please, please, Lisa." I leaned over to take the girl's hands, squeezing them firmly. "Please beat the shit out of them, and please let me watch."

    Lisa paused for a moment, before breaking out into laughter, letting go of my hands to stabilize herself on my bed as she practically guffawed. "Oh my God, Taylor. Yes, yes, you can come watch us 'beat the shit out of them', don't you worry." The girl wiped a tear from one of her eyes as she composed herself, taking a deep breath before continuing. "Nobody in the Brockton collegiate scene likes Epic. They're super obnoxious but they all think that they're super cool, and they do this ridiculous theatrical bullshit, and..." Lisa stopped herself, giving a somewhat painful grin with clenched teeth. "Well, thankfully, since it's just an exhibition match, we won't have to go play in person at the PRT arena." A tilt of my head, seeking clarification. "Oh, uh, the Professional Ransack Tribunals. Basically the organization that does most professional Ransack stuff. It's... A topic for another day, probably." I nodded, allowing my friend to continue. "It's Brian's turn to host the team, so we'll just head over to his place and set up in the living room." Lisa thought for a moment, before giving me one of her trademark smirks. "Are you going to be okay going over to Brian's house, Taylor?"

    Oh, God damnit, Lisa! My cheeks were burning hot, and I was only mildly annoyed that Charlotte could eavesdrop on a conversation I was having regarding a guy I had a crush on. "I..." Allowing myself a moment to get back on my conversational feet, I continued. "I will be just fine going over to a friend's house, yes, Lisa." I did my best to show indignation on my face, but half of that emotion was exaggerated for humor.

    "Oh? You already consider him your friend Taylor?" I felt my heart sink for a moment, as I considered that it indeed might come off as pretentious to assume that Brian was my friend; Lisa's teasing alleviated that, however. "You know what they say. Friendship is the first step on the road to..." She let her sentence trail off, allowing me to fill in the blank with whatever my imagination could come up with.

    I planted my elbow on my desk, and rested my chin in my hand. "And what about you, Lisa?" I asked, trying to turn the tables on her. "Are you okay with this new person coming out of nowhere and crushing on your team captain? Brian is pretty hot, y'know. Or is he not your type?" Anxiety spiked in me, and I mentally beat myself for not asking a more pertinent set of questions: "...does he already have a girlfriend? Or, err, does he even like girls? I mean, can I ask that? Shit, I'm sorry, I..."

    Lisa raised a hand and gently bapped me on the head with it to stop my rambling. "Taylor. It's fine. Yes, I'm pretty sure he likes girls, given the way I've seen him stare at some of the chicks around here. No, he doesn't have a girlfriend, since he always says that he's 'too busy' for that." I frowned a bit at that, feeling imaginary opportunities with Brian beginning to evaporate with increasing rapidity. "And no, he's not my type, either. So you don't have to worry about 'stealing' him from me, or anything. I'm pretty sure neither Rachel nor Alec see him in that way, either, so you should be fine. I mean, if you want to try, anyways." That grin of hers, and my cheeks reddened further.

    "Mmm. I'll... I mean, I only met him today, but, maybe something could happen? Possibly? Maybe." Fidgeting in my seat, I tried to turn the conversation back around onto Lisa, even though I knew my verbal combat skill wasn't nearly as great as hers. "What about you, huh? If Brian's not your type, what kinda guy is your type?"

    I winced a bit as Lisa's face took an odd expression, kicking myself for having made that same faux pas twice in nearly as many minutes. "I... Don't really have a type, I guess." Damnit, was I right? Seeing the look on my face, Lisa put her hands up plaintively. "No, I'm not gay, either, don't worry, you didn't offend me like that, or anything." I sighed, for once actually glad that my new friend was so good at reading people. Lisa shifted around on my bed, clearly trying to think of what to say. "I dunno. I've just never really felt attracted to people in that way before. I guess they'd call me 'asexual' these days? But maybe I'll find someone eventually that does it for me, who knows." With a shrug, my friend's smile returned to her face. "Besides, I'm too busy with school and Ransack to worry about that kind of stuff, anyways." That grin immediately turned back into a frown as she considered what she had just said. "Shit. I just gave the same excuse Brian does, didn't I?"

    I burst out laughing as I saw Lisa, for once in the few hours I had known her, actually look defeated, an expression that seemed like it never should have belonged on that vulpine face of hers. Seeing me laughing, Lisa began to, as well, holding her stomach as she giggled; I even heard Charlotte laughing from her bed, and I actually didn't mind too much that she had joined in.

    After a while, she calmed down, and Lisa looked at her phone again. "Anyways, I really do have to get going now." The girl climbed off my bed, before walking over to me and wrapping me in a tight hug. "We aren't playing in the labs tomorrow, since there's no time when we're all out of class at once, but we should be back there on Wednesday." Lisa smirked, before continuing. "So long as Rachel and Brian don't kill each other, anyways." I snorted, as Lisa spoke again. "You'll be coming back then, right?" My friend raised her eyebrows, and that smirk spread across her face. "Riiight? If nothing else, consider it a chance to see Brian again."

    I playfully pulled myself out of her hug, smacking lightly at her arm. "Oh, shut up, Lisa! Yes, I'll be coming back on Wednesday, and no, it won't just be for Brian."

    Lisa laughed again as she grabbed her stuff, making towards the exit from my dorm room. "Alright, sounds good. Oh, make sure you add me on Ransack, too! I wouldn't mind playing with you a bit or whatever. See ya, Tay!"

    I waved as my friend left through the door, smiling back at her. "See ya, Lis'!" As the exit closed behind the girl, I suddenly felt an air of tension fall over the room, my attention turning towards the other girl that was still there with me. Apparently sensing my increasing discomfort, Charlotte shifted on her bed, the sound of her covers and blankets rubbing up against one another practically echoing through the room.

    "Um." I had to resist the urge to whip my head around to stare daggers at her as she began to speak. "You can, uhm." Come on, Charlotte. Speak up. I know you're not that smart, but you can use words at least, right? "You can play the game if you want. The, uhm. Ransack, it's called, right?" Yes, Charlotte, very good! It's called Ransack! "I won't mind. I can probably still get to sleep, if you want to play it."

    I didn't need her fucking permission to play video games in my own fucking room, I knew that. So I wasn't quite sure why I responded the way I did. "Mm. Thanks." I was pretty sure that Charlotte was just as shocked as I was when I said that. Had I ever thanked her for anything? What the hell sort of black magick sorcery had Lisa cast on me while she was here? God fucking damnit.

    I shut my attention off from Charlotte, though, refocusing myself onto the game. Exiting out of the tournament window Lisa had brought up, I came face to face with the Swarm Queen again. Complicated. Multi-tasking. Micro. High skill floor. But so, so fucking cool. I locked her in as my choice of character, and registered myself for a bot game. I wasn't going to let a little bit of complexity keep myself from playing a character that I wanted to.

    As I began to walk around in the prep area, I realized... Oh, God, though, the Queen's voice lines, too. I had barely registered the Adventurer and Wizard as having voices due to how generic they sounded, but the Swarm Queen had work put into the dialogue she gave whenever I issued a command. It was sultry, seductive, and powerful; it sent shivers up my spine when I heard it, and I wasn't even into women. Somehow, the massive amount of bug-related puns she made - "You may feel a little sting..." and "Don't worry, I don't bite..." and "Take that, you worm." - never lessened the feeling of dark elegance and grace that I got from hearing her speak. The way she walked, even, as if that hip sway was just second nature to her; I wasn't into women, right? No, I wasn't, but I was into the Swarm Queen, albeit not in a sexual sense. In spite of just being a fictional character in a video game, she felt intoxicating as I played her, as I controlled and became her.

    That feeling was, I noted, perhaps a little dangerous. I resolved to make doubly sure that I got to bed before it got too late tonight, and that I didn't stay up enraptured by the Swarm Queen for hours on end.

    I directed my attention away from the Swarm Queen herself over to the actual gameplay aspects of her character. She was definitely a bit of an odd goose compared to what I had seen with the Adventurer and the Wizard, as well as what little I picked up from the Undersiders' characters. Three of her "basic" abilities spawned one type of arthropod minion: Spider, Centipede, or Hornet. The fourth basic ability - "Mark Prey" - increased the amount of damage that her minions would cause to one specific target. Her "ultimate" ability was called "For the Swarm", and instantly summoned enough minions to reach the Queen's maximum allowed amount. As far as I could tell, I wasn't quite sure what Lisa meant about this character being overly complex, since it seemed like the way that she played was to spawn her minions and let them do the work for her.

    That was, until I used Spawn Spider for the first time, and realized that I could individually control it, separate from my Swarm Queen. I didn't understand all of the exact implications of this fact, but I understood the general consequences. A low-level player would indeed likely just spawn the Queen's minions and let them do as they pleased. Only two games into Ransack, though, and I realized that doing so would be a horrific, tragic mistake in playing her. My mouse cursor began to hover over the buttons for the Spawning abilities, and I read the fine print on what each minion could do. The spider minions could slow enemies they attacked, but this effect didn't stack; if a creature was already slowed by a spider's venom, it wouldn't get slowed again if more spiders came to attack it. The centipedes could cause a poison-typed DoT - damage over time, I remember Lisa explaining to me - but this, too, did not stack. Finally, the hornets could cause blinding effects, in the same way that Grue's shadow abilities did; as the pattern suggested, though, it did not stack.

    Several cogs in my brain clicked together, and I managed to realize the proper way to play the Swarm Queen. I would have to multitask - no, I would have to micro all of her minions, spreading them out to each enemy, in order to let them have the greatest efficiency possible. Not only that, either. As I moved my spider minion around, I realized that it had a health bar above it's head. My spider was not invulnerable. It could be hurt. It could be hurt by AoEs. Not only would I have to worry about keeping my Queen out of danger, so too would I have to keep my swarm out of danger, if I wished to keep up the damage they were causing.

    I grinned madly, and I worried for a moment if Charlotte could see. Who cared if she could, though? This character was amazing. The way that she played was amazing. Lisa had told me that it wasn't good for a player to only know how to function with one character, so I supposed that I would have to learn some others as back-ups, but... What was the term Lisa used? A player's "main"? Yeah, the Swarm Queen was going to be my main, unless something extraordinary happened to change my mind.

    I started the round properly and followed my AI party members into the computer-constructed dungeon; this time, it was filled with what appeared to be crazed cultists of some sort. At my first level, having only one spider minion to control in addition to my Queen was not that much of a challenge, especially since all that my Queen could otherwise do was throw ranged auto-attacks at the enemies. When I leveled up, though, I put a point into my Queen's "Majesty" discipline, which allowed me to summon an additional spider minion, for a total of two. Once I reached a room where some maniacal priests were casting AoE spells, I felt the pressure tick up, as I rapidly clicked between all of my controllable characters to keep them from being hit; I managed to discover the existence of "control groups", thankfully, which allowed me to select a specific group of my characters at once with a press of the button. Eventually, as I went further on and unlocked Centipedes and Hornets, I began to learn that, in some circumstances, it was more efficient to simply let my minions die rather than to try and save them all; the time I spent moving my bugs out of the range of AoEs was time that they weren't spending attacking the enemies, and I could replace them quickly and cheaply enough that I was willing to let a centipede or two die here and there.

    Finally, my party and I reached the miniboss room. As it opened up, it revealed not a single, large enemy, but rather a massive group of smaller ones, all of whom looked... Weak. They weren't fighters or priests or mages or soldiers like all of the other cultists up until this point, but looked more like civilians. Gold-fonted text displayed the name of this so-called miniboss: "THE CONVERTS".

    Thank God for bots, because as something from earlier clicked in my head, I was able to pause the game to be able to think through all of it. "Mister Vasil" was what Lisa had called Alec. Vasil. Niko Vasil. The cult leader from French Canada, the one who had been declared not guilty on countless criminal charges because of his charisma and his legal team. No, I... I barely knew Alec. I shouldn't intrude on his privacy like that. It's not my business if he's the son of a cult leader. He did kind of look like what I remembered seeing from pictures of Niko Vasil, though. But I really shouldn't dig into stuff that didn't concern me, so why the fuck was I already searching for Niko Vasil and there was a picture of his son Jean-Paul and yeah I was pretty sure that was the boy I had met earlier.

    I dropped my head into my hands, my swirling emotions a combination of self-hatred for intruding upon Alec's personal life and the knowledge that I had met the son of a cult leader and had played a video game with him and joked around with him. No. Alec wasn't necessarily his father. I mean, if Niko Vasil even was actually Alec's father. I could be mistaken. Alec could be Jean-Paul's doppelganger. With the same last name? Yeah, sure, it makes sense. Alec Vasil, looking just like Jean-Paul Vasil, but with absolutely no relation. I could live with that.

    No, I could not live with that. But Taylor, this wasn't your god damned business anyways. Did Alec look like he was going to brainwash you and take you back to Montreal to join his dad's cult? No, of course he didn't. He seemed like a perfectly typical teenage boy, doing perfectly typical teenage boy things.

    And yet, my text message had already been sent to Lisa. [ Hey. So, I was wondering. You called Alec "Mister Vasil" earlier, right? ]

    I swallowed hard, and looked back to Ransack. The Swarm Queen was frozen in time as The Converts charged towards her and the party, and I could feel her impatience. Maybe I should just go back to the game while I waited for Lisa to-

    Ding! [ Ah. You figured it out, then? He doesn't mind if people know, but it'll probably be best if you ask him yourself, once you get to know him better. ]

    So, I was right. Somehow, that was mostly a relief. I was still frustrated at myself for digging into Alec's business like that, but what was done was done. Like Lisa said, I would probably leave it alone for now, and if it ever came up when I was talking with Alec, then it would come up. Until then, though, I would just consider him another member of the Undersiders, another potential friend for me to make, son of an infamous cult leader or otherwise. [ Thanks, Lisa. I appreciate it. ]

    I set my phone down onto my desk, and returned to the game, taking a deep breath before I unpaused the round. With that many enemies, there was no way that I could micro all of my minions at once - at least not with my current skill level - so I let them choose their targets automatically. Each individual Convert died pretty quickly, but the sheer number of them meant that they were able to whack down my minions when the bot that was acting as my party's tank couldn't keep them all aggroed properly; with a press of a button, though, "For the Swarm" activated, and a suddenly flood of insects pushed back against the tide of Converts, biting into them with renewed vigor.

    Maybe this was why Alec played Ransack? He had changed his first name, obviously - though not his last name, which confused me - so I was under the assumption that he was probably estranged from his dad and the rest of his "family", I supposed? So it would make sense that he wanted to be able to become "King_Regent" for a while, to be able to completely forget about his own life circumstances.

    ...or maybe I was acting overly familiar and didn't actually know jack-shit about Alec, his life, or how he thought; thinking about it, that was far more likely to be the truth. I sighed, internally slapping myself for that momentary pretentiousness, before finishing off the last of the Converts. As I leveled up, I added some points to my "Training" discipline to increase the statistics of my individual minions, in case they had to take auto-attacks again further in the dungeon. Thankfully, there were no more hordes like the Converts had been; the Training discipline still gave my swarm more powerful status effects, so my investment into it had not exactly been a waste, either.

    The door to the Overlord's room was decorated in religious iconography, and as it slid open, something like a church organ blared while ominous chanting accompanied it. Charlotte had been getting ready for bed, but I saw her jump a little bit as the music for the boss fight started. From what I could see, it looked like she was watching my screen from the safety of her side of the room; that aggravated me, somewhat, but I also wasn't willing to tell her to fuck off, either, so I left it well enough alone.

    The Overlord himself was more average looking than the Skeleton King or the Orc Warchief had; he was a relatively normal albeit tall human man, dressed in blood-red robes, possessed of a bald head, with a series of grotesque facial tattoos. The gold font and female announcer declared him "THE HIGH PRIEST". I wasn't quite sure how he was going to manage to be a threat like how the King and the Warchief had been, but all was explained when I realized that he was more of a magic-user than a brute-force fighter. As he stood in front of a blood-spattered altar, a shimmering, semi-transparent black dome surrounded him. When a second health bar appeared over his head, I realized that it was some sort of shield that we were going to have to penetrate before we could touch the High Priest himself; I hoped that my minions would actually be able to deal meaningful damage to the dome, considering that - aside from the poison - they primarily dealt physical damage.

    I popped my Mark Prey ability on the High Priest and sent my bugs out to try and attack it, while I tensed up and waited for whatever attacks the Overlord would start to deliver. I didn't see any circles or lines or cones forming on the ground, so where... Oh. Oh god. It wasn't that the High Priest was going to be placing marks on the floor that we had to move out of, no. He was sending out projectiles from behind the safety of his shield. Orbs of dark energy were what came first, and one of my centipedes that hadn't yet reached the dome was obliterated when it was hit by one. At this point, all of my disciplines were leveled to maximum, so I had assumed that my minions were beefy enough, but... I grit my teeth, and began micromanaging my Queen and my minions as if my life depended upon it; in a way, at least, my Ransack life depended upon it. I could see the orbs start from his position within the dome, and I knew that they always flowed out in a straight line, so I managed to keep most of my swarm alive without having to move them too far away from the Overlord.

    But then, he changed his tactics up. Something else appeared, directly underneath the High Priest, that started to flow outwards in almost every direction. I didn't have time to understand what it was before my entire swarm died, in nearly an instant; I hitched my breath, my eyes opening wide as concentric circles pushed out from behind the dome, only the smallest of gaps here and there for the Heroes to dodge through. I felt my finger twitch to press the For the Swarm button, but I stopped myself; I might have no minions right now, but summoning any while I was trying to dodge all these AoEs would only result in them getting killed before they could reach the dome and continued the attack. I moved my Swarm Queen back and forth, attempting to make my way closer to the High Priest with each layer of circles I dodged; it wasn't as if the Queen herself needed to be close to deal damage with her basic attacks, but if I could be near the Overlord once I was able to use For the Swarm again, my minions wouldn't need to travel the distance to reach his shield.

    Finally, the waves of damaging circles stopped; the High Priest seemed to have turned his energies to rejuvenating his shield, and I could see that, without the damage that my minions provided, the dome was regaining its health quickly. I practically smashed the button to active For the Swarm, and rapidly pressed Mark Prey in succession, sending my army of insects and arachnids at the Overlord. In spite of whatever shield restoration spell he was using, the health of his dome began to plummet yet again; the High Priest returned to the waves of circles in short order, but I managed to micro most of my minions out of the way, spawning new ones with my basic abilities whenever I lost any, and moving them up to continue the assault.

    I knew that if I was playing the Adventurer or the Wizard that this fight would not be nearly as difficult. I would only need to keep one character from getting hit, and I could just press a button to deal damage without having to worry about micromanaging minions. But as I saw the dome's health drop percent after percent, I also knew that this fight would not be nearly as fun if I played one of those simpler classes. This was exhilarating. The aesthetics of the Swarm Queen were intoxicating, but actually playing her was a different sensation altogether. With a satisfying shattering noise, the High Priest's shield broke apart, and my bugs swarmed in before my AI party members could approach, tearing the poor, computer-controlled Overlord apart.

    "VICTORY!" I felt the adrenaline start to leave my system, replaced instead by a calming rush of endorphins as I took several deep breaths. My God, was I sweating? I was sweating. From behind me, I could hear Charlotte comment on what had just happened. "Wow. That was cool." In spite of everything else I thought about the girl, I couldn't help but to smile. Yeah, it was cool.

    I received another "lootbox" from having won, but the only thing in it was some sort of dinky avatar for my profile. I didn't mind getting that item too much, though, because it reminded me of something else that I had intended doing. "thebert1995" - or, as Lisa would refer to it, The Bert 1995 - was not a user name that I would want to keep if I was going to be playing more Ransack, if I was going to be playing more Ransack with other players, if I was going to be playing more Ransack in ranked, competitive games, or - in some imaginary world - if I was going to be playing more Ransack professionally. Who would take a person seriously if they ran around with that name? Who would take the Swarm Queen seriously if her player was called "The Bert"? I didn't need to change my screen name just for myself, I also needed to change it for her.

    I went to the menu that would allow me to use my one free name change, and sat there with my arms crossed as I stared at the text box. What sort of name would I enjoy being called when I played the game? What sort of name would I enjoy having people know me as? What sort of name would I enjoy having be announced as I stepped up onto some sort of stage to accept a trophy for being the Ransack world champion...?

    I blushed and grinned like an idiot, shaking my head of those ridiculous fantasies. Come on, Taylor, be serious now. I furrowed by brow in thought, tilting my head around and sighing a few times as I struggled to figure something good out. Then, I remembered the Swarm Queen, that woman - however fictional she may have been - that had turned me from casually interested in the game into genuinely devoted, even though I had only played the damn thing for a couple of hours now. Something to honor the Swarm Queen, maybe...

    My brain managed to remember something. Wasn't there some deity in some old religion that had something to do with bugs? I did a quick internet search, before smiling, returning to the game, and entering the name I had decided on. I was utterly delighted to find that it was available for me to use.

    "Khepri".
     
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  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 8: Intrusions
    MissBrainProblems

    MissBrainProblems Making the rounds.

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    Chapter 8: Intrusions

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    As much as I had wanted to continue playing the Swarm Queen for the rest of the night, I took Lisa's comments about not putting all of my proverbial eggs in one proverbial basket under advisement; instead, I ran myself few a through bot games playing the three other different starter classes that I had unlocked. While I didn't really enjoy any of them as much as I had the Queen, they all still had their own individual merits, and I didn't feel like I wasn't enjoying them, either. Running through with the Soldier and barely seeing my health drop in spite of being attacked by every enemy in sight caused me to giggle maniacally a bit - which, in turn, elicited a strange look in my direction from Charlotte - while being able to set up lethal combos on beefier enemies as the Rogue also brought some degree of satisfaction when I saw tougher, elite enemies fall in a single blow; I especially enjoyed the Priest and the way that - with enough skill, micro, and SP management - I could essentially keep my entire team alive single-handedly through most circumstances, so long as my idiotic AI team mates didn't keep standing in AoE markers, anyways. I figured that if I was ever in a situation where I needed to play something besides the Swarm Queen that a support class like the Priest seemed that it could be my second preference. I unlocked a few more classes through lootboxes and leveling my game account up, but I opted to leave trying them for a later day.

    More importantly, I had begun to understand the shop, item, and equipment systems, namely by sitting in the pre-game prep area and carefully mousing through all of the items available for sale to my character. In general, most of the equipment increased one statistic or another, but there were a few that had abilities that could be used when you pressed a button to activate them; more hotkeys to memorize, I supposed. Based on how expensive and elaborate some of the gear was, I could only assume that many players had shaped some their builds around one piece of equipment or another. The consumable items were less spectacular, but some of them - albeit the fair more expensive ones - did pretty useful things like applying invulnerability to damage for a short period of time. I noticed that some players had made extensive guides about what order to purchase equipment in for greatest efficiency, but I didn't want to spend too much time on that tonight.

    At some point, I realized that Charlotte was trying to actually get to sleep, and I opted to plug some earphones in so that the game's audio didn't keep blaring out of my laptop's speakers; I didn't exactly care if I was annoying my dorm mate, but I figured that I wouldn't want her keeping me up playing video games all night, so it would be best for me to return the favor. Keeping in mind the fact that I had nearly been late to American Literature today because of losing time to Ransack, I kept a careful eye on the real-time clock in the game; I had done the math, and since the group section for my World History course was at ten in the morning... Take me half an hour to get up and ready... Fifteen minute walk... Another fifteen minutes for safety... Yeah, I could afford to sleep until nine in the morning. Assuming I wanted eight hours of sleep - though, I supposed, I could do with less if I was feel particularly irresponsible - I would need to get to bed at one o'clock. The real-time clock read as midnight, and I queued myself in for one more game.

    Well, I ended up playing two more games, and after taking the time to wind down, I ultimately ended up finally falling properly asleep at three in the morning. It wasn't the end of the world - I could manage well enough on six hours of sleep, and it wasn't like I had any major exams or papers due - but I was well aware of the potential for actual, literal video game addictions, so I resolved to set myself up with some sort of strict schedule to nip anything like that in the bud before it became an issue. I assumed that Lisa had experience in this subject, too, so I made sure to remember to ask her about it the next time I saw her in person; she seemed like the kind of person I could trust to keep me honest when it came to this sort of stuff.

    I even managed to actually focus on my classes for the rest of the day, leaving only a partial amount of my mental processing power to thinking about Ransack. World History section came and went, so did general education biology, and so did World History lecture. As the time approached three in the afternoon, however, I began to grow more restless as my history professor droned on about the the Qing Empire; yes, yes, I get it, isolation, stagnation, decadence, opium, British imperialism, but come on, clock, move faster! I could practically hear the tick-tock of the hands as they went around the clock-face, and my legs jittered as my hands held tightly onto my backpack.

    "Anyways, uhh, that's it for today, so I'll see you all on Monday..." The old man's lackluster farewell was practically a starting gun for me, and I dashed out of the lecture hall much in the same way I had ran out of my American Literature class yesterday. Realizing just exactly what I had done and why I had done it, I stopped in my tracks once I left the history department building, letting out a deep sigh as I pulled out my phone.

    [ Hey, Lisa, where are you right now? ] I sent the text message to my friend, before placing myself up against a wall and doing my best to calm myself down.

    It took her a few minutes, but she eventually responded. [ At my place. What's up? ]

    [ Wanted to come talk about something, maybe hang out. Is that okay? ] For a moment, I worried that it was too presumptuous of me to ask to come over to Lisa's apartment the day after I had met her, but... She had come over to my dorm room the same day she had met me, hadn't she? I was sure it was fine.

    [ Yeah, no problem. Just doing some class stuff, but we can hang. ] She sent me her address, as well, an apartment complex subsidized by the college for upper-division undergraduates; it was close enough to the campus that I was willing to walk, rather than worry about taking a bus or a taxi.

    [ Thanks. Be there in a bit. ] I hefted my backpack up onto my shoulders again, before making my way over to Lisa's place. It was a fairly decent apartment, at least as far as places in Brockton Bay go. There were no drug dealers hanging out and trying offering you any manner of illicit substances, nor were there any gang members looking like they'd stick you up for your wallet, either; a lot better than the Docks, at least. I trudged up a single flight of stairs to make my way up to her second-floor apartment.

    When I knocked on the door, I was surprised to not see Lisa open it up and greet me, but rather a white girl with startlingly red-dyed dreadlocks.

    "Can I help you?" She seemed nice enough, in spite of her somewhat curt question.

    "Oh, uhm, hi. Is Lisa here?" Regardless of the girl's kind tone of voice, though, I still fidgeted a bit as I talked to her; I still wasn't the best with strangers, even a year and a half out of Winslow.

    "Lisa! Is this the friend you were telling me about?" The red-headed girl shouted back into the apartment; at least I had the right place, I supposed, unless this was somehow a completely different Lisa who somehow lived in the same apartment complex, or was this even the right apartment complex, had I not followed the directions correctly, was I just bothering these people, was-

    I practically heard Lisa's voice in my head, telling me that I needed to calm down, take a deep breath, and be more confident. I did what imaginary-Lisa asked, and I heard real-Lisa call back from inside shortly after. "Yeah, should be!" The blonde girl made her way out from her bedroom, and started walking towards me in sock-covered feet. "Hey there, Tay. Find the place easy enough?"

    I nodded, while Lisa's room-mate stepped to one side, allowing me in. I nodded my head to her in thanks, as I approached Lisa; as the red-head closed the door behind me, my friend wrapped me up in a short hug. I meekly returned the gesture, before answering her question. "Yeah, no real issues."

    Okay, no, there was a difference between Lisa coming over to my place last night and me coming over to her apartment now. It was a difference that perhaps didn't exist in reality, but it sure as fuck existed in my head. How long had it been since I had gone over to somebody's house that wasn't like... Fucking Kurt and Lacey's, or something? Greg had invited me a few times, but I would rather have been stuck in my room for a month than go over to his place for anything. I think the last time must have been... Emma's, yeah, when I had come back from summer camp, the night I had met Sophia. Christ, I hadn't even gone into her house, I had only approached her front door, so before even that was...

    I stopped myself. Going down this road would do nobody any good, least of all myself. I took a moment to remember Dr. Yamada's words. Breathe. Stabilize. Center. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, even though I know it might seem strange to the two girls next to me, but I had to get myself back into order. It's fine, Taylor. Lisa is your friend. Maybe only your friend for little over a day now, but you're safe here with her.

    Once I opened my eyes, I did indeed see the red-head looking at me with concern, while Lisa simply smiled patiently. Once Lisa's room-mate was convinced that I wasn't about to blow up or pass out, she looked over to my friend and asked: "Another Ransack friend, I'm guessing?"

    Lisa nodded in response, her smile turning a bit more mischievous as she spoke up. "Yep. That okay with you, Sierra?"

    "Sierra" looked at me, sizing me up with her eyes for a few seconds, before shrugging. "Yeah. S'long as she's not as bad as Bryce, I suppose."

    I looked at Lisa, hoping for some clarification. Smirking, my friend answered my unspoken question. "Bryce is her little brother. He plays Ransack, too, but he's a bit of an obnoxious squirt about it." Sierra sighed and shrugged, nodding in acknowledgement. Lisa continued, poking the red-head in the arm playfully. "It took me a good month or two to convince her that I wasn't like Bryce, but I think she's still a little bit suspicious about Ransack players in general."

    With a bit of a frown, Sierra looked over towards Lisa with a raised eyebrow. "Can you blame me, though?"

    The blonde girl laughed a little bit, shaking her head in response. "No, I guess I can't. Bryce is actually on the team we're competing against on Saturday, if you can believe that." A piece of information fell into place in my head. 'TheBrycinator'. God, that was an even stupider name now that I understood it completely.

    I looked from Sierra back to Lisa, wording my question as carefully as I could. "There's no, uhm... Conflict of interest between you two, or anything? I mean, living in the same apartment with the person your brother is like... Fighting against?"

    The red-head smirked at me and shook her head, as well, while Lisa gave me one of her vulpine grins. "No. Not at all. I actually tell Lisa to beat the shit out of him every time she's up against him." My eyes shot open wide, and my mouth hung open slightly. Lisa started laughing all over again at the look on my face, while Sierra continued her explanation. "I'm hoping that if he gets the snot kicked out of him enough times in actual competitions, that he'll eventually give up on this ridiculous nonsense about becoming a professional Ransack player." I winced a little bit, worried that Lisa might take offense at that; hell, even I took a bit of offense at that. Sierra must have noticed, because she looked over at Lisa before speaking again. "I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being an e-sports athlete, or whatever you want to call it, but my brother just doesn't have the right mentality for it. Bryce still thinks of it as a game, and that he'll just be able to play a game and make money and he can just have a bunch of fun and get paid for it."

    Lisa's face took on a slightly more serious expression, but she was still smiling even as Sierra continued. "Lisa's shown me that people can actually take being a professional video game player seriously, though. She likes the game, I know that much; I can see it in the way her eyes glitter when she's playing." Was that Lisa blushing? My god, I almost wanted to take a picture for posterity's sake. "But she still knows that it's going to be work if she wants to get paid to do it, that it's going to be hard, that it's going to suck some times, just like how any job will." Wow, I had not expected a white girl with red-dyed dreadlocks to put this much thought into... Anything, really. I silently shamed myself for yet another negative presumption. With a sigh, Sierra finished her impromptu speech. "Not to mention, Lisa actually had a stable career lined up, while my brother just fucks around and doesn't bother to plan for anything except Ransack." Apparently realizing just how long-winded she had gotten, Sierra looked at the two of us sheepishly, her own cheeks turning a bit red. "Uhh, sorry. I get a little serious when it comes to my brother. I do love him, which is why I, uhh, yeah..." The red-head gripped one arm with her opposite hand, and fidgeted awkwardly.

    With a chuckle, Lisa patted her room mate on the shoulder and tried to reassure the girl. "It's fine, I don't think Taylor minded one bit, right?" I shook my head and smiled at Sierra, who grinned a bit nervously at me. "Anyways, thanks for getting the door, Sierra. I'm gonna be in my room with Taylor if you need anything." I waved to Sierra as Lisa walked over towards her door, beckoning me over to her. Even as I made the short distance over to Lisa's room, I took a second to admire her apartment. It was student housing, no doubt about that, but there were two bedrooms, one for each person, and a living room! God, I couldn't wait to be a junior and get a place like this.

    Once I got into Lisa's room, though, everything else I had seen began to pale in comparison. Sure, her room had everything a normal university student's would; it had a bed, it had a bookshelf, it had some decorative posters, it had a dresser, and it had a desk. More importantly, though, was what was on that desk. An elaborately designed computer tower had been slid into a compartment that seemed like it had meant for the box to fit in it, and a clear glass side exposed... Good lord, were those pipes in there? Pipes with water? I... I supposed I had heard of water-cooled computers before, but actually seeing one was... And God, that was only half of it. Two monitors on the actual surface of the desk, with a third hung on the wall above, tilted down so that whoever was sitting down would be able to see it properly.

    It seemed as if Lisa was expecting, perhaps even hoping for that reaction out of me, because that particular smirk on her face was wider than I had ever seen it yet as she closed the door behind us. "So. Impressed?"

    God, and then she just flat out admitted that she wanted to see that look on my face. I turned to meet her gaze, and nodded slowly. "Yeah. Yeah I am quite fucking impressed, Lisa." Another one of her laughs, as she half-dashed over to and half-jumped in her chair, the set twirling around a couple of times before the girl stopped it so that she was looking at me again. I noticed that on the "primary" screen there was what appeared to be a word document open, that Lisa had apparently been working on before I arrived. I felt a twinge of guilt knowing that I had interrupted whatever it was she was doing, but I tried to remind myself that she had said it was okay for me to come over. On the "secondary" screen right next to the first was some sort of music player, while on the "tertiary" screen that hung above the desk there was... There was...

    "No fucking way." My jaw fell open for the second time tonight, as I realized what I saw on the third monitor. "You fucking trade stocks, too?!" I must have been a bit too loud, as Lisa held a shushing finger over her lips even as she giggled like a little kid. My friend motioned over towards her bed, which I gladly took a seat on as I held my spinning head, trying to comprehend just who the fuck Lisa even was.

    "A girl's gotta make money somehow, y'know." Lisa just sort of tilted her head and grinned at me as I continued to stare aghast at her.

    "Lisa." I began. "I've only known you for a day, so I guess I don't necessarily know everything about you yet, but..." I pointed to the first monitor. "You somehow balance being a psychology major-" My finger moved to the third screen, next. "-trading stocks-" I threw my arms wide in disbelief, careful not to hit any of Lisa's things even as I made the exaggerated movement "-and you play on a professional ransack team?! Girl, what the hell?!"

    Lisa gave me a grimacing, apologetic smile as her hands fiddled against one another in her lap. "Uhh, will it help if I say that I don't have much of a life outside of those things?"

    God, she looked like a little kid that had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, and desperately didn't want to get in trouble for it. I buried my face in my hands, and slowly shook my head from side to side. "I... I suppose it helps a little bit, yeah." I looked at the computer tower that sat on its position inside of the desk compartment. "I guess that explains how you can afford NASA-tier computers, though."

    Lisa snorted, before looking up at the computer that had the stock charts on it. "Honestly, I don't make as much money as you think. I can pay the bills and buy everything I need for school, but most of my spare cash goes into Ransack and my computer." She pointed a finger in the direction of what I knew to be the parking lot for the apartment complex. "You should see my car. It's like, the exact opposite of this thing." The girl motioned to the computer tower with her hand to punctuate what she meant by "this thing".

    A thought struck me at that moment, though. Why did Lisa have to play the stock market to make money? Did her parents not help her with school? ...and was that even a question I felt comfortable asking her yet? No, it wasn't. I shook my head and sighed, looking around Lisa's room again. "Still, though. It's all really impressive."

    Lisa idly kicked her feet back and forth as her hands clung to the sides of her chair, nodding with a smile. "Thanks. But you said you wanted to talk to me about something?"

    I winced a little bit, as I had nearly forgotten about the reason why I had come over here in the first place. It was... Embarrassing, to say the least, and talking about it even made me feel a bit vulnerable, but I took a deep breath and composed myself before starting to speak. "I, uhh. I like Ransack." Lisa nodded, watching me carefully. "I mean, I really like Ransack. I only started playing it yesterday, but..." My friend's face shifted a bit, and I could tell that she was deep in thought even as I continued to speak. "...I think I might like it too much. I accidentally stayed up until three in the morning last night, and I... I don't want to be like... God, it sounds so silly to say, but I really don't want to get like... 'Addicted'?"

    I had more to say, but my words began to peter out, and Lisa took the opportunity to respond. Her voice was calm, leveled, and understanding; I could definitely see why she wanted to be a therapist. "Do you want to stop playing, then?" A look must have spread across my face, because Lisa put her hands up plaintively. "I'm not saying you have to, Taylor. I'm genuinely asking you if you want to keep playing Ransack, or if you want to stop playing Ransack."

    Lisa had barely finished speaking before I responded. "No, I definitely, definitely want to keep playing Ransack. And I want to be able to play Ransack with you and the rest of the Undersiders, if you'll let me. And maybe with other people, too, even. I enjoy it, a lot, it makes me feel really good to play it, but I just... I've heard stories, and I don't want to like... End up like that, I guess? Christ, that sounds wrong, doesn't it..."

    The girl's blonde ponytail wagged back and forth a little as she shook her head. "I know how you feel, Taylor. I really, genuinely do. It is scary. I've had nights where I played Ransack until the sun came up. One time that happened on a day I had an exam." Lisa smirked a little bit, temporarily getting rid of her serious expression. "I failed, of course. The point is, though, that I know. I've been through that sort of stuff." Lisa rolled her chair across the floor towards me, and she placed a hand on one of my own; I hadn't even realized that my hand had been shaking until she did so. "And while I want to have fun playing Ransack with you, Taylor, I don't want you to have to go through that sort of stuff, as well. So, if you want to keep playing Ransack, I can help you out a bit with that, okay?" Had I died and gone to Heaven? Because I was pretty damn fucking sure there was an angel sitting right in front of me.

    I wiped away a few preliminary tears that had formed in my eyes, sniffing my nose and chuckling a bit to help clear the mood. "Al... Alright. That sounds good. Thank you, Lisa." I firmly gripped the hand that she had placed in mine, and squeezed it softly. "Seriously. I know this is ridiculous. I start playing a video game yesterday and I'm already panicking about becoming addicted to it, but..."

    Lisa took her hands away from me, and I panicked for a moment before she practically slapped them onto my cheeks. "Taylor." My friend's voice was deadly serious for a moment, as was her expression. She continued staring at me for several long seconds, and I almost began to worry that she was actually mad at me... Until she fucking crossed her eyes, scrunched up her nose, and stuck her tongue out at me, giving a "Pflfbft!"

    I busted out laughing, shoving her away as I cackled like a hyena. "Eww! Lisa! That's gross!" My friend was curled up in her chair, holding her sides as she laughed just as loud as I did. I worried for a moment that we may have been disturbing Sierra, but there thankfully wasn't any knock at Lisa's door. Eventually, the both of us managed to settle down, and as I regained the oxygen I had been deprived of while giggling endlessly, I spoke up again. "Hah... Anyways, wh... Hehe... You said you could help?"

    Lisa nodded before turning to her computer; a few quick mouse clicks later, and the Ransack launcher had been brought up on her screen. As she clicked the play button, she turned to face me slightly. "Well, it's more that I can show you how to help yourself. Ransack has a built-in personal time constraint function."

    I seethed slightly as I noticed how quickly her computer loaded up the game; god, she had barely pressed play and she was already at the main menu. "A personal time constraint function?"

    Lisa beckoned me over as she clicked through a few menus, before bringing up what looked to be a calendar and a clock together, with several boxes for inputs. "Yeah. The game lets you designate certain days and times where it doesn't let you play; if you're in the game, it'll shut you out, and if you try to launch it, then it'll close the game when you do."

    I leaned over to get a better look at what she was saying, studying the menu she had open. "That seems... Why would a company want players to not be able to play? That seems like it can't be great for their bottom line."

    Lisa leaned back in her chair, stretching a bit as she yawned slightly. "Well, Entity is run by a husband and wife team. They privately own the business, so they don't have to answer to anybody but themselves when it comes to making policies like that and stuff. So, in cases like this, they get to put the well-being of their customers above profit." Lisa sneered a bit, though, looking annoyed. "But they still fucking put gameplay content behind paywalls, fucking..." The girl grumbled a bit more, before putting a smile back on her face and turning towards me again. "Anyways, yeah! Let me show you how to set the constraints real quick."

    A minute or two of explanation later, and I had a rough understanding of how I could do it for my own account. "...and you can only change them once they're set by filing a support ticket, so make sure it's exactly how you want it."

    I took in the last bit of Lisa's little lecture, and nodded my head. "Alright, thanks, Lisa. I appreciate it so much, you have no idea." As my friend smiled gently at me, I took a seat on her bed again, once again looking around her room... Except, this time, I felt a bit awkward. I realized that we had agreed to hang out, once we had gotten that serious topic out of the way, but now I didn't even know what to do. "So..." It was such an impotent, weak little syllable, but it was all I could offer.

    "So." Lisa responded in kind, raising an eyebrow as she looked at me. "Do you have any tests or papers due tomorrow?" As I shook my head, I instantly realized what look was growing on Lisa's face. "...wanna play Ransack?" I wanted to ask the obvious question, about how I could play Ransack when there was only one computer in her room, before the God damned blonde-haired green-eyed little brat pulled out a fucking laptop from nowhere and passed it over to me.

    I mimicked my friend's voice as I opened up the computer, finding and pressing the power button. "Nuhnuhnuh, I don't make as much money as you think, nuhnuhnuh."

    Lisa gave another hearty laugh, before smirking and speaking again. "You didn't answer my question, Tay. D'ya wanna play Ransack, or not, huh?"

    I sighed heavily, lifting my eyes up to meet Lisa's. I shook my head in annoyance, but I couldn't help smiling at the girl. As I double clicked the shortcut sitting on the screen of Lisa's laptop and brought up the game's launcher, I gave her my own smirk and answered her confidently: "Hell yes, I wanna play Ransack."
     
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  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 9: Exhibition
    MissBrainProblems

    MissBrainProblems Making the rounds.

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    Chapter 9: Exhibition

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    "Taylor, what the fuck is a Khepri?"

    I looked up from Lisa's laptop to the girl herself, who had spun around in her chair to look at me with a questioning brow raised. We had joined together in a party, and she had said that before I even had a chance to select my character. "Oh, uhm. He's a uhh, Egyptian god. From mythology, I mean. He's a, uhh..." I looked away a bit sheepishly, as Lisa's face continued to grow concerned. "He's, uhh. Got a beetle head. And he rolls around the sun like it's a ball of dung. Or, something like that."

    "Taylor." I half-grimaced, half-smiled as my friend's gaze continued to drill into me. "I say this as your friend. But what the fuck."

    I put my hands up plaintively, stumbling over my words a bit as I continued to try and explain. "Look! It's supposed to symbolize like, rebirth and renewal, and stuff! And... I already used my name change, anyways, so I'll have to wait until next year to do it again!"

    Lisa buried her face in her hands, letting out a groan as she did. "Great. Now I have to play with someone who named themselves after a dung-beetle god." I was worried for a moment that she was actually annoyed with me about my name, but the silly grin on her face as she looked up dispelled that anxiety. "Okay, but seriously. Why'd you pick that name, out of everything you could have? Do you like... Like dung beetles? No judgments, if you do. We're all into something, y'know."

    I blushed and grit my teeth as Lisa teased me, before responding indignantly. "No! I mean, I'm not saying that beetles aren't cool, because they kinda are-"

    "See! I knew you were some kinda bug girl! Bug girl Taylor!" I gave Lisa my rebuttal by grabbing one of her pillows and throwing it at her, which she blocked while giggling.

    "Anyways." I smiled a bit despite myself as I continued. "It's because, well, I played the Swarm Queen after you left last night, and I really liked her. I, uhh. I know you said she might be too complex for me, and I don't know how good I actually did since I only used her against bots, but... I really enjoyed playing her. So I wanted a name that fit."

    Lisa let out a small "Hmm..." as she made a thoughtful expression. "Well, if you like her, then you like her. Remember what I said, though, that you should probably try to learn more than one character or build, yeah?"

    I nodded, cycling through the common-level heroes that I had unlocked naturally through the tutorials and leveling up. "Yeah, don't worry. I gave the other characters a try, and I think I can probably play them more or less decently if I need to." I settled on the Priest, before looking up at Lisa and speaking up again. "I'll go ahead and play the Priest, though. I don't want to take the Swarm Queen in and mess things up, especially since this'll be my first game against other players."

    Lisa turned around again, giving me an actual serious look this time, though still with a smile. "Taylor. This is a casual game. A casual game. You can play whatever you want. It doesn't matter." I started to protest, but she raised a hand to stop me. "Taylor. Play the Swarm Queen if you want to play the Swarm Queen. Besides, even if you do suck, the only way to get better is to practice, right?"

    I grumbled a little bit, but changed my character back to the Swarm Queen with a little bit of reluctance. Sighing, I gave a proper response to her question. "Yeah, Lisa, you're right. As always." I grinned up at her, returning the smirk she was giving me. "But hey, if I do suck and ruin this game for you and our team mates?" I jabbed my finger out in her direction, putting on a faux-serious look as I did. "You're to blame, yeah?"

    Lisa just snorted and returned to her own computer, cycling through a rather large selection of characters until she found one that she liked. "Sure thing, Tay. Sure thing."

    As she settled on a hero, I noticed that it wasn't the same one that she had played with the other day; it looked a little bit like the character that she used before, but this one held a censer in her left hand and some kind of cudgel in her right, with some kind of religious amulet around her neck. As she stood to the side of my character on my own screen, I could see "MissTattletale" below "CHAPLAIN - SUPPORT". I vocalized my curiosity with a simple: "So. What's that character about?"

    Clicking a button, Lisa put the two of us into the casual game queue, before turning back around to me. "You know how the character I was playing yesterday could dodge and crit a whole bunch?" I nodded, following along. "Well, this character does the same thing - except she grants dodge and crit buffs to the rest of the party." Lisa returned her focus back to her game, mousing over and clicking a few things as she did. "Technically, my last character counted as a 'support' character, too." I raised an eyebrow at that, because even with my limited amount of Ransack knowledge, what she was playing yesterday seemed sure as hell like a melee character. Turning back to me once more, Lisa had one of her smirks adorning her face. "But I did it by manipulating the game's algorithms." My eyes widened and my mouth hung open, just as Ransack let us know that our game was ready to play. We both confirmed our queue, before Lisa continued as the game began to load. "See, I had the personal crit and the dodge skills, and I do focus on those when building that character to get the big deeps-" I snorted a bit at that, before allowing her to keep talking "-but all I need is the scouting ability and one basic healing ability, and the game classifies me as a support." With a shrug, she turned back to her computer one last time. "I only play it with the Undersiders, though, since we coordinate our team comp together. It'd be pretty shitty for me to go into a public game with a non-supporting support."

    Lisa's explanation ended right about when the game finished loading, and I found myself with Lisa and two other complete, total strangers. One had "TheNWord" as their username, and the other had "michael53" as his. "Lisa." I asked, my voice flat. "Is that person's screen name really 'TheNWord'?"

    "Yes it is, Taylor. Yes, it, is..." My friend sounded completely exasperated, but also resigned. "I'm sorry that you're going to have to go through this bullshit in your first public game, Tay. I swear, most of the community isn't like this." Lisa's fingers clattered on the keyboard, while I went to the starting shop and tried to remember what items I had planned to buy for the Swarm Queen.

    MissTattletale: hey guys, this is khepri's first game, just so you know. they should be fine, tho
    TheNWord: hey misstattletale are you really a girl???

    Lisa groaned as she buried her face in her hands; I was just glad that I hadn't caused it this time. "Don't... Just... Don't respond, Taylor. It just encourages them."

    I nodded slowly was I watched the in-game chatbox; once I had finally figured out all the items I wanted to buy, I moved towards the starting portal that led into the enemy's dungeon. "...Lisa."

    TheNWord: hey bitch answer me
    TheNWord: misstattletale you cunt
    TheNWord: bet ur not even a real girl

    The player continued with even worse slurs for every type of demographic he could think of; michael53, for his part, had been completely silent, though his character was running around nonsensically. Lisa had her eyes closed and her arms crossed, breathing deeply in through her nose, and out through her mouth. "Hooh... Haah... Hooh..."

    I gulped, watching the ready timer countdown, while 'TheNWord' continued his tirade. "Isn't there... Something we can do about this? Lis'?"

    My team mate opened her eyes, and put her hands into the ready position on her mouse and her keyboard. "Like I said, don't respond. It'll only encourage him. He's probably just some dumbass teenager who think that he's being funny or cool. We can report him after the game. Entity's usually pretty good about banning these types of people."

    I nodded again. I... I supposed I had hoped that my first experience with other players who weren't the Undersiders would be a positive one, but I had been through enough interactions with online strangers on message boards and social media to know that it was a fool's dream to have. Instead, I made my way through the portal once it opened, following behind Lisa- No, she was Tattletale now. michael53 followed us, but TheNWord had a few more colorful insults to fling before he came along.

    TheNWord: lucky you have me on ur team
    TheNWord: get ready to get carried, bitches

    "I, umm. I know I shouldn't be paying attention to what he's saying, Li... Err, Tattle. But, what does 'carried' mean? I, uhh, hope it's not something else rude?" We entered the first dungeon room, and found it filled with wild wolves; the walls had a forest theme, so I assumed we were in for more animals and beasts.

    "He thinks that he's going to win the game for us entirely by himself." While I spawned a centipede and started cycling through the wolves to give them all a taste of poison, Tattletale cast a spell on our team mates, who instantly started to crit more often with their attacks. I noticed that TheNWord had some sort of rogue-looking build, while michael53 had what seemed to be just the basic soldier class; the latter was doing well enough at maintaining aggro on the wolves, though, so I supposed that he was doing fine enough.

    TheNWord: don't need this pussy ass buff shit
    TheNWord: just give it to ur friend and this michael fag lol

    I temporarily lost control of my centipede as both of my hands went to the keyboard of the laptop. "Khepri." It took me a second to respond to that name, but I looked up at Tattletale, who was still intently focused on the game. "Don't do it, Khepri. Don't respond. You'll be giving him what he wants."

    I fumed out through my nose, but when back to controlling my Queen and her centipede. Once we cleared the room and I got my first level up, I invested my skill point into unlocking my spiders; I only had one at that point, but I would group it together with my centipede so that they could spread both a poison and now a slow throughout groups of opponents.

    TheNWord: aww yeah bby lvl up
    TheNWord: time to combo these beetches

    "Beetches? Really?" I scoffed as we entered the next room, where there was some sort of wildman dressed in furs and antlers, holding a staff and waving it around. He had another pack of wolves with him, and I began my usual pattern of running my currently centipede and spider through, applying their debuffs to each one before continuing onward.

    "Yeah, really. Beetches." Tattletale snorted as she echoed my sentiment, and I watched as her Chaplain began the process of reapplying buffs to the party, before beginning to throw healing spells at michael53's Soldier. "Hey, Khepri." I gave a little noise of acknowledgement, before she continued. "I get what you're doing with your pets, trust me, I do. And normally, it'd be the right plan." I felt my heart sink for a moment. Shit, was I actually sucking and ruining the game, already? "It's good to spread the debuffs out like that, but." She pressed some buttons to create some notifications over the wildman's head; I made a note to learn how to do that later. "He's going to keep healing the wolves until he's dead, which means that the poison you're applying to them is basically wasted."

    TheNWord: shut up bitch
    TheNWord: i can do what i want

    "Oooh." While Tattletale and I both pointedly ignored our other team mate, I immediately moved my spider and centipede over to the wildman, left them on him, and began using my Swarm Queen's auto attacks to add to the damage that he was taking. "That... Makes a lot of sense, actually. Sorry, I don't know why I didn't think of that myself." I bit my lip and blushed a little bit while I took a moment to relax; there wasn't much for me to do when I could just set my minions on a single enemy and wait until they died.

    Tattletale shook her head and laughed a little bit. "Khepri, it's fine. Not everyone's going to know all of the intricate ins-and-outs of Ransack in their first few days of playing." My friend looked back at me with a smirk, diverting her attention from the game for a brief moment. "Well, except for me. I knew all of that, because I'm the brilliant, beautiful genius, Lisa Wilbourn."

    It was my turn to snort now as the wildman died, and I sent my centipede and spider back to their usual task. "Uh huh. I mean, I guess you might be a brilliant genius, but..." Tattletale had turned back to her computer, but she afforded herself the chance to lift a hand from her mouse and flip me the bird, which just elicited a laugh from us both as we began to make our way into the next room.

    As I leveled up again, my finger hovered over the button to purchase the Spawn Hornet ability, but a thought occurred before I did. "Hey, Tattle?" After a sound of acknowledgment from her, I continued. "Should I even get the hornets? They're the uhh, ones that give the blind debuff to enemies. But you already give all of us big dodge bonuses, so it's not like the enemies are hitting us all that often, anyways. Just feels kinda like it'd be pointless to have them."

    Tattletale gave me a thumbs-up from her chair, before explaining. "You've got it, Khepri. It'd be a sort of diminishing returns thing. We'd do better if you just invest points into your Disciplines, which if I remember the Swarm Queen, I think should be, uhh..." My team mate just clicked her tongue, before speaking up again. "Okay. You can just get more minion spawns, that works too." I looked up from my laptop towards Tattletale, but she waved my expression of concern off. "Honestly, it's fine. Like I said, it's a casual game. It's not going to be a big deal one way or the other."

    In spite of Tattletale's reassurances, I still frowned a little bit with worry as I looked at the Majesty discipline that I had leveled up, and the additional centipede and spider each that had been added to my burgeoning army. I had been able to use them to what I thought was good effect in the bot game I played, but... Would it be different in a game with real players? I supposed, as my friend had said, that the only way to get better was to practice, and I additionally supposed that the only way to find out if I was still any good with the Swarm Queen's minions was to just give them a shot.

    I placed one spider and centipede into one control group, and the other set of insects into a different one. The enemies in this room were a set of angry-looking wild boars, who repeatedly charged at each of our party members ever-so-often; when they attacked in that matter, they drew a line AoE from themselves to the Hero they were targeting, locking on in the process. Tattletale informed me that the further away we were from where the boar was starting its charge, the less damage we would take. That made sense enough; what didn't make sense was when TheNWord intentionally directed a boar that was charging at him into Tattletale's path, causing damage to the much more fragile Support member of our party.

    TheNWord: hahahaha
    TheNWord: take that dumb bitch

    The expression on my friend's face suggested that she wanted to punch her likely three hundred dollar monitor, but she opted instead to take a drink of some water she had at her desk. "Umm, Tattle?" She whipped her head around at me angrily, but frowned apologetically the second after she had done so. I drew back a little bit, but did my best to calm myself down before asking my question. "So, when that moron put you in the boar's path, it stopped on you, right? And didn't go through to him?"

    Tattletale sighed, shaking her head. "Khepri. The answer is yes, but you really don't have to try and use your minions to block the boar charges. That's way too micro-intensive, and I'm not going to expect that out of you on your first non-bot game."

    I grumbled and pouted a bit; I worried for a moment that the dumbass kid we were playing with had started to sour both of our moods, so I didn't want to argue with Tattletale on any actual level. Instead, I simply went ahead and started trying to do it, anyways. I only had four minions, and there were still more boars than that, but there was enough of a time between each time they charged that I always had one that was available to block it. My minions always died from taking a boar's charge point-blank, but they were expendable enough and my Spawn abilities had a low enough cooldown that I accepted it as price worth paying; they usually managed to get a few hits of their own in during the boar's wind-up time, too.

    "Khepri. What the fuck?" I panicked for a moment. Shit, had I made her mad by going against her orders like that? "No! Tay, I'm not upset, I promise. This is just a casual game, anyways, it's not worth getting upset over, even with this fuckboy in the party with us." Tattletale's Chaplain did another round of reapplying buffs, before she continued speaking. "But, uhh, are you sure you only started playing Ransack yesterday? And you said that you hadn't really played many video games before that?" As she looked back at me for a moment, I shook my head. "Tay, I believe you. I'm not saying you're lying. But how the fuck are you moving your fingers that fast?"

    I looked down at the hands I had on Lisa's laptop, that she had set up with a wireless mouse on top of a small table in front of her bed as a platform for me to play on. My fingers, of course, had stopped doing anything once I took my attention away from the game. Not quite sure what she meant, I looked back up at Tattletale and let out a simple, slightly dumb "Wuh?"

    My friend looked back at me, giving me a slightly unbelieving grin. "Khepri. You've been spending the last minute spawning your minions and moving them into the path of the boars. You've stopped most of their charges, and have effectively mitigated more damage than what I've healed and what Michael's blocked put together." I myself had returned my focus to the game, and was in the middle of doing just what Tattletale was describing. "That's not something a new Ransack player can normally do. So, uhh. If it's not too much of an invasion of privacy, you want to tell me how you can move your fingers that fast?" She lifted one hand from her mouse to hold it towards me plaintively. "Again, I'm not saying you're lying, Tay. I'm just really curious what kind of secret training you went through to get micro skills like this."

    I furrowed my brows and put on an expression of consternation as Tattletale grinned at me before returning to her game. "I, uhh..." My attempt at figuring out how to answer my friend caused me enough distraction that a boar charge made it past my web (heh) of defenses and slammed home into my Swarm Queen. With a muttered "Shit." I quaffed one of my health potions, which elicited a response from Tattletale.

    "Khepri." I looked up at Tattletale, before hearing a moderately loud sound effect from my game, and a shine of light from what I could see of the screen. "Healer. Remember?" I must have looked confused enough for my friend to continue. "I'm sayin', don't use your potions! I've got you, girl!"

    I grimaced a bit, realizing my mistake, but I also finally managed to formulate an answer to Tattletale's previous question. "I mean, I guess maybe, piano?" My friend looked over her shoulder, encouraging me to continue. "During the last two years of high school, I convinced my dad to pay for piano lessons, even though we didn't have all that much money at the time. I mean, we still don't have that much money even now, but, uhh, that's not the point." The boars were finally defeated, and we moved on to the next room while I put another point into Majesty, bringing myself to three sets of insects to control. "But yeah, I just needed something to do to, uhh..." Well, the reason I had wanted to start taking piano lessons was so that I could have some meaningful outlet for all of the stress and emotion that had been building up in my heart from the constant bullying and harassment that I had been receiving since I started high school, but I didn't want to bring the mood in the room down any more, not when TheNWord had already managed to accomplish that well enough. "...take my mind off of school, y'know?" There. That wasn't a lie, but it wasn't over-sharing, either.

    The expression on my friend's face suggested that she could tell that there was more there that I wasn't talking about, but she also seemed content to not force me to say anything, either. Instead, she opted to offer some of her own thoughts. "That makes sense. I guess when you learn how to play piano, you learn how to use your fingers real well." A smirk crossed Tattletale's face, and I realized what she was about to say even before she spoke up again. "I wonder what else you can use your fingers real well for?" The eyebrow waggle she gave me while looking over her shoulder solidified the dirty comment.

    "Oh my fucking God, Lisa! I thought you said you weren't into girls!" I laughed as we came to a room with four bears and a number of wolves accompanying the much larger beasts.

    Tattletale giggled along with me, taking the time to set up her buffs before continuing to tease. "I'm not, babe, but I can still appreciate a chick with good manual dexterity." I was fairly certain that I hadn't made friends with a dirty old man yesterday, but at that point I couldn't tell for sure.

    "I'm going to tell this guy where you live if you don't stop, Lis'" I chuckled evilly as I made a motion like I was typing on my keyboard.

    My friend's eyes shot open wide in what looked like genuine fear. "Oh my god, absolutely do not, Tay. I will actually murder you if you do that." The two of us continued to laugh as we continued through the dungeon, and even the occasional bursts of slurs and insults from our friendly neighborhood internet troll weren't able to ruin our mood again.

    Going up against a player-controlled Overlord's dungeon showed me a few more of the things that a person could accomplish when setting things up. At one point, we came to a split path, which Lisa's Farsight ability told us connected back to a single point up ahead. When I asked why the Overlord would want to spread his resources apart like that, Lisa explained the logic:

    "So, Heroes want to fight monsters, yeah? We get gold, we get experience, we get loot. So whenever we're going through a dungeon, we always want to go through as many rooms as we can." She pointed at the minimap on her screen, and even though I didn't quite see exactly what she was pointing at, I understood generally what she meant as she continued. "When the Overlord splits the path into two, he makes the enemy Heroes have to spend more time walking through the rooms. The trade-off, like you said, is that there's less resources for him to spend elsewhere, but it's one of the many strategic decisions you have to make as Overlord."

    I nodded as we continued down the right path that had split. The two rooms were cleared, and as we reached the point where the paths joined up again, Tattletale, michael53 and I made our way to where the other path was, opting to go through and grab whatever goodies could be found there. TheNWord, on the other hand, made his way for the door that led further into the dungeon.

    TheNWord: yo wtf
    TheNWord: just come on who cares
    TheNWord: fucking retards

    I looked up at Tattletale, who just shook her head. "Let him. He can go and die on his own if he wants, the three of us should be able to do this just fine by ourselves." I nodded, and we went into the two rooms that had been on the left path that we hadn't taken... Only to find that both of them were trap rooms with nothing of value in them, and only a whole lot of pain and debuffs awaiting us. In the mean time, TheNWord had indeed attempted to fight a group of shapeshifting wildmen in the next room and died for his problems. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to keep him from wanting to berate us for our own mistake.

    TheNWord: fucking told u
    TheNWord: stupid bitches
    TheNWord: shoulda just gone on
    TheNWord: tattletale uninstall and make me a sandwich lol

    I jumped up as I heard a slamming noise from Tattletale's direction, and lifted my head in time to see that she had banged her mouse down onto her desk. I began to ask if she was okay, but the girl took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. "I'm fine. It's just a game. He's just an idiot on the internet. I'm fine." I was pretty sure that she was telling that more to herself than me, but I didn't offer that opinion.

    "...maybe make him a shit sandwich?" I offered, cautiously.

    My friend snorted loudly, and smiled a bit as she shook her head. "Tay, I appreciate the thought, but that was hella lame."

    I smirked, sticking my tongue out at her. "Yeah, but you still smiled, Lis'."

    Tattletale nodded, still grinning as we went to fight the half-bear, half-man enemies. "I guess I did, yeah."

    Eventually, we came upon the dungeon's miniboss, who was a larger than normal wildman that shifted into a wereboar. Aside from his own attacks and beefy nature, he also summoned some regular boars to charge us as the other ones had. These ones disappeared after their charge, though, so I made sure to make good use of my increasingly numerous minions to block them whenever they spawned; our dear friend didn't seem to like that too much, though, as I managed to stop one that he had intended to slam into Tattletale.

    TheNWord: yo wtf khepri stop
    TheNWord: im trying to hit misstattletale

    I could practically hear my friend smirking from over in her chair. Noticing me looking in her direction, she explained her apparent joy. "So, I said that Entity's good at dealing with bigots and idiots like this that throw slurs around, yeah?" I nodded, following along. "But their support staff is kinda swamped with reports for that kind of stuff. But what this guy just admitted to right here? This is griefing. Intentionally playing the game in a way to make it less enjoyable for other players." I watched as Tattletale licked her lips, almost evilly. "And griefing reports go right to the front of the fuckin' line. This kid's dead, now." My eyes went wide as I suddenly saw a side of Lisa that I had never expected out of her, even with all of those vulpine grins she showed all the time. "Nobody fucks with MissTattletale and gets away with it, punk."

    I shrunk back away from my friend just a little bit, intimidated by the sudden air of viciousness that surrounded her. I mean, it wasn't as if I was particularly enamored with the guy, either, but Lisa had taken it to another level; I couldn't blame her, of course, but it still spooked me a bit.

    After the wereboar miniboss fell, we managed to continue through the dungeon without much more issue. We stopped at a shop right after the miniboss room to buy some gear, while TheNWord rushed ahead and got himself killed, again; he complained in chat once more, but at that point Tattletale and I had started to become inured to his whining. I continued to add points to my Disciplines, picking up Mark Prey and For the Swarm along the way, and eventually grabbed Spawn Hornets once we reached max level right before the Overlord room. Then, a name I didn't recognize popped up in the chat window.

    RealHumanBean: They're at the miniboss. I'm recalling you.

    "Wait, what? Who's this?" I looked at the message in confusion, before glancing up at Tattletale.

    "It's our team's Overlord." Oh my god, I had almost completely forgotten there even was an Overlord on our side. "Don't worry, the Hero party usually doesn't interact with their Overlord much except at higher levels of play. It's, uhh, not too shocking to know you didn't even realize we had a fifth team member." Tattletale grimaced as our entire party was teleported from right outside the enemy's Overlord room to right inside of our own team's Overlord room. "The allied Overlord is supposed to be able to spend some of his resources to grant his team mates buffs, or items, or healing, or gold or whatever, if they feel like they're ahead of the enemy team, but they can also force a recall to the friendly dungeon if they feel like the Heroes are needed to go against the enemy party."

    TheNWord: DUDE WTF WE WERE RIGHT AT THE OVERLORD
    TheNWord: FUCKING SEND US BACK RIGHT NOW CUNT

    RealHumanBean didn't bother responding, but Tattletale shook her head and sighed. "I hate to say it, but that kid's right for once. There was no reason to recall us. We would have killed the Overlord and just won right there." Even so, she started having her Chaplain walk in the direction of our friendly miniboss room, and I had my Swarm Queen follow behind her. I watched michael53's soldier pull up the pack, while TheNWord walked through the portal we had used at the beginning of the game; I saw his icon back at the miniboss room of the enemy dungeon.

    TheNWord: fuck all you retards
    TheNWord: im gonna kill the overlord myself

    I gave a worried smile at Tattletale, who looked like she wanted to curl up into a ball and die. "Anyways, we're here now, so we may as well go fight the enemy party like Bean wants us to. It'll be a good way to show you player versus player stuff, anyways." My friend bit her lip, and it looked like she wanted to say something further; eventually, her frustration won out, and she started venting a bit. "Like, I get it. I really do. Overlords should have a way to recall the party if they're needed. But could we at least like, get a vote function?! 'Hey, party, do you want to be recalled? 3/4 yes voted needed.' Or just, fucking anything like that! It's not like Bean did that to grief us, or I don't think they did, but fuck!" Tattletale banged her hands down onto the desk as she huffed. "...sorry. Video games, yeah? I promise the next game will be more fun. I seriously, super duper promise. I really, really hope this isn't scaring you off of Ransack, or anything."

    It was taking a fair amount of time for us to reach the friendly miniboss' room, and I saw the icons of the enemy party engaging it on the minimap while its health percentage began to slowly tick down. "Tattletale. Lisa. My friend. It's fine, really." I smiled up at her as genuinely as I could. "I'm not going to let a few idiots on the internet get me down about playing an awesome game with an awesome person, okay?"

    Lisa actually looked vulnerable for once, like some kind of hurt puppy. "Really? You mean it, Tay?"

    I nodded, smiling wider. "Yes, Lis', I mean it. Now come on, we're almost at the miniboss room."

    My friend sighed in relief as she turned back to her computer, before starting to give me instructions. "Okay, so, fighting an enemy party should kind of be thought of as fighting four tiny minibosses or Overlords at once. They have a lot of health, and they have abilities, too, sometimes even the same abilities you have." Tattletale, michael53 and I reached the miniboss room, and the door opened to reveal the four enemy players fighting a large, four-legged red dragon that was breathing fire in conal AoEs. "Remember what I said about the enemy healer from before? Same thing here."

    I nodded, casting Mark Prey and throwing all of my minions onto the enemy's Support, and they... Dealt a lot less damage than I thought they would, considering that there was a significant difference in gear and experience between us and the enemy party. Tattletale must have expected my question, as she answered before I even looked up at her. "Our stats are brought down to roughly the same level as the enemy party's when we're in our own dungeon, and visa verse. This is so that we can't just get ahead of them before returning to our dungeon and camping them forever." I glanced up, and she explained the bit of lingo that flew over my head. "Camping means like... Sitting on them, not letting them do anything, killing them over and over again. It's pretty frowned upon, and games try to stop it from happening whenever they can." Since I had numerous insects at this point, I sent a group out to attack the enemy's Melee that was attacking Tattletale herself; his attacks immediately slowed and began to miss more frequently as my debuffs did their magic. "Thanks, Khepri. Probably shouldn't have emphasized just pushing their support, since stuff like this is also pretty important in PvP..."

    Tattletale was pressing buttons rapidly in order to keep spamming heals on herself while quaffing stamina potions simultaneously to allow her to continue casting. "Anyways, so- Oh my God, he did not just-"

    Before I could ask what "he" did not just do, I heard fiery sound effects and saw bright red effects coming from my screen. Looking down, I saw the enemy's Tank whacking at the minions I had on their Support. I temporarily worried about what I would need to do, but I quickly realized exactly what it was that Tattletale had "Oh my God"'d about. The red dragon miniboss had a conal fire breath AoE, which was targeted on whoever had the dragon's aggro. The enemy Tank currently had the dragon's aggro. The enemy Tank was currently standing right next to the enemy Support. The enemy Tank was currently placing the conal fire breath AoE right on top of the enemy Support. The enemy support was surrounded by my minions. The enemy Support could not move from their position, due to the "hitbox" collision between them and my minions. The enemy Support was now repeatedly getting hit by the dragon's conal fire breath AoE.

    "Oh my fucking God." I closely echoed Tattletale's words. "Oh my fucking God, is... Is he really?!" I laughed in disbelief as I watched the enemy Support's health drop rapidly; between my minions ganging up on them and the dragon miniboss burning them to a crisp, they fell over dead in short order.

    "Holy shit. That was amazing." Tattletale turned around in her seat with a gigantic smile on her face. "I know you probably didn't, but I just have to make sure. You didn't plan that, right?"

    I shook my head vigorously, while grinning as wide as my friend was. "No, but I sure do wish I had. Uhh... Thank God for stupid enemy players?"

    The both of us went to town cleaning up the remains of the enemy party, which were significantly easier to kill without their Support there to kill them. "Yeah." Tattletale spoke up as she began casting her one offensive spell on the enemy Melee that had been harassing her. "Thank God for stupid enemy players." She smiled back at me, eyes glittering a bit mischievously as she continued. "Guess our team isn't the only one full of morons, is it?"

    RealHumanBean: Good job. Sending you back.
    TheNWord: fuk u bich

    I laughed even as our characters were teleported back to the enemy's miniboss room, where TheNWord had just showed up, apparently after having been killed again by the enemy Overlord. I couldn't even care that people like this jackass were playing the same game as me, because I could still giggle and have a good time with my friend, and that was all I really cared about at that moment. As our characters made their way towards where the boss awaited, I looked up at Tattletale, who was idly clicking her character along the path. Seeing me glancing at her, she turned around with a wide smirk before throwing a V-for-victory sign at me. My friend's enthusiasm was far too contagious to resist, and I put my own hand up in the same gesture. Tattletale and I sat there for several, long seconds, staring at each other with our goofy-looking faces and our fingers splayed out, before we both burst out into guffaws yet again. We composed ourselves from the side-splitting laughter just in time to ready ourselves for the fight with the enemy Overlord.

    "Hey, Tattletale?" I asked, making sure I had as many minions as I could spawned and ready.

    "Yeah, Khepri?" Tattletale pre-buffed the party - grudgingly including TheNWord in that - while she looked back at me.

    "Let's kick some ass." I grinned again as I looked into the Overlord's room, seeing "THE PRIMAL DRUID" standing there, his health having been taken down to a staggering 98% already by our friend's heroic and brave efforts to take it on solo.

    Lisa smirked back at me, before the two of us charged in together for the final confrontation. "You fuckin' know it."
     
    a2znut and Fishyface like this.
  11. Orannis

    Orannis Getting out there.

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    Hope to read more of this soon. I find the idea of this very interesting.
     
  12. a2znut

    a2znut Needs more handholding. [Forever DM]

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    I think the second kill is suppose to be a heal.
     
  13. Scopas

    Scopas Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    This is excellent! A pity that TT can't rip TheNWord's world asunder with Tattle-Talk, though.
     
  14. Threadmarks: Chapter 10: Agitation
    MissBrainProblems

    MissBrainProblems Making the rounds.

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    Chapter 10: Agitation

    -----------------------

    The fight against the Primal Druid was exciting enough but also ended up coming and going rather quickly, and without any near-death encounters apart from TheNWord regularly standing in AoEs; after a while, Tattletale simply stopped healing him, allowing him to die from his own moronic mistakes. If nothing else, though, I appreciated the chance to be able to see the way that an Overlord directly controlled by a human moved and acted in comparison to all of the AI-controlled Overlords that I had been playing against up until that point. Once the boss had been defeated, our team bid each other goodbye - a simple farewell from RealHumanBean, a smiley face from michael53, and some more slurs from TheNWord, which Tattletale gleefully reported him for - and the two of us shut our games down so that we could go have dinner; according to Lisa, not playing Ransack while eating a meal - except on rare occasions, like the impromptu pizza party we had two nights prior, or during official tournaments - was one of the other methods she used to keep a proper balance between Ransack and real life. None of Lisa, Sierra, or myself were necessarily the greatest of cooks, so we ended up preparing some pre-packaged but still mildly elaborate microwave dinners, before sitting down at the dinner table to eat together. I felt mildly guilty when I realized how impressed I was that Lisa was capable of holding long, prolonged conversations about things other than Ransack; I had to actively remind myself that my new friend did indeed have a life outside of video games, and that I, too, needed to try and emulate that.

    Lisa and I played another casual game after dinner - thankfully, this time without any aggravating individuals like how the last match had - where I got to play as the newly-unlocked Apothecary, a regeneration-focused healer Support; once that game was over, though, we called it a night I headed off back to my own dorm room. By the time I was back, Charlotte was already there, studying at her desk. I gave my roommate as non-committal of a greeting as I could before I went over to my own seat and booted up my laptop; after having had Lisa's computer to compare it too, my own machine felt woefully inadequate, and I once again made a mental note to save up for something better. As I nigh automatically double-clicked the shortcut for Ransack, though, I felt a twinge of conscience; I had work for my classes that needed to be done, and while I could have put it off, was I going to do so just over a video game? I stared silently for several seconds at the screen that showed the Swarm Queen in her idle animation, playing with her spiders and centipedes as she grinned devilishly; eventually, though, I let out a deep sigh before clicking over to my settings page. I set up the time constraint function to not let me play after midnight, before turning off the game and refocusing myself onto my schoolwork; it was painful, slightly, but I wanted to do my best to follow Lisa's example of life-Ransack balance, as well.

    In the end, I didn't get the chance to play any more that night, since by the time I was done with the stuff for my classes, it was already past midnight; I was surprisingly okay with that fact when I realized it, though, and went to bed content with the knowledge that I was a person capable of being at least marginally responsible about things like that. My math class that morning came and went about as fast as the Primal Druid fight did, and I made my way directly toward the computer lab afterward, rather than the library; I was fairly certain that the reading room would be filled with loud, obnoxious freshmen anyway, so there was no point in even bothering to try that location. I did take a moment, though, to try and justify my destination by telling myself that I could take the time to do some reading in a quiet setting before the Undersiders showed up; I marginally succeeded, even though my thoughts were far detached from Kurt Vonnegut novels. Regardless, I headed off to the computer department's building in record time - managing to stay out of sight of Greg on my way there, which I was thankful for - and directed myself into that secluded, back corner where I had met the Undersiders on Monday.

    One of them was already there. In most circumstances, I would have considered that fine, even enjoyable, in that I could have chatted with Brian or Lisa or maybe even Aisha, or could have sat in silence with Rachel, but the problem was that the individual that I was in that room alone with at that moment was Alec Vasil. Alec Vasil, the boy who I realized the other night was more than likely Jeal-Paul, the son of Nikos Vasil, that infamous cult leader up in Quebec. I had noticed a marginal French accent in Alec's voice on Monday, but I hadn't been able to put two and two together until that sudden moment in the middle of that Ransack game where it all came together. Regardless, though, as I entered the computer lab, I stopped in my tracks, staring at Alec, my head sprinting in an attempt to figure out how to conduct myself around him, now that I was pretty sure of his rather colored background and his history. The boy himself had been focusing at something on his monitor, though, and only noticed me after I had been standing there in silence for several seconds; pulling out one earplug that was connected into the computer, he gave me a lazy smile and an equally lethargic greeting. "Heeey there. Nice to see you again. You're, uhh..." Alec bit his lip, looking only marginally ashamed at having forgotten my name. "...Tina?"

    I sighed heavily as I shook my head, walking to the back row of computers was Alec was sitting. Okay, so the guy was the kid of a cult leader, but I was beginning to consider the fact that - at least as far as my interactions with him were concerned - whoever his dad was didn't matter all that much compared to the fact that he was still a dumbass college boy that couldn't remember anybody's name. With a resigned look, I sat my backpack down on the floor next to a computer chair. "It's Taylor. And you're Alexandrios the First, if I remember correctly?" With a smirk of my own, I sat down and turned one of the lab's machines on; I wasn't sitting in the same five-person row as Alec was, since I was sure that the rest of the Undersiders would want those seats.

    Alec grinned over at me, showing a set of sparkly white teeth in the process. "Hey, the girl has a sense of humor. Pretty nice. But yeah, if you want to call me something majestic and regal like that, I won't mind, babe." He flipped some of his curly hair with a hand of his, giving me a playful grin in the process.

    I was pretty sure that he wasn't flirting with me in seriousness, so I just snorted and shook my head. "Aisha's not going to mind you calling other girl's 'babe', Sir Alexandrios?"

    Alec tilted his head, pursed his lips in thought, and then just gave a simple shrug followed by: "Eh. I'm sure she won't mind." Alright, maybe it wasn't as serious between the two of them as I had originally thought.

    As I waited for the school's computer to boot up all the way - I was grateful to know that there were machines on that campus slower than my laptop, if only marginally - I made my way over to see what Alec was doing on his computer; even as my feet were walking themselves over, I instantly began to consider the fact that Alec may have been - God forbid - looking at porn or something using the university's internet. Thankfully, though, he was doing no such thing, and the blush that had been forming on my cheeks was quickly replaced by an amused expression; that son of a notorious cult leader was spending his time alone in the computer lab looking at cat memes. He scrolled his mouse through various images of different felines in a wide variety of situations, all of which had humorous or punny captions on them. Alec didn't seem to mind the fact that I was being nosy, though, as he simply continued to browse through the page of cat pictures with a smile on his face, letting out a small "Hah." here and there. I could hear some music leaking out of his earbuds, too, and I thought that I could vaguely interpret it as some sort of electronica; I opted to follow along with Alec's example, and took out my phone to listen to some of my own music while we waited for the others to show up.

    Most of the rest of the Undersiders began to trickle in over the following half an hour or so. Aisha, first, who sat next to Alec and instantly began indulging in their ambivalent style of playful, trivial flirting. Lisa, next, who I smiled and waved at when she entered; once she had settled in, the two of us began chatting about how our classes that day had gone, even though there wasn't all that much of interest in that particular subject. Rachel, following, that time accompanied by a regular terrier rather than by the Boston one from before. A command from the butch girl let me know that the dog's name was Angelica, and I frowned a little bit as I noticed that it was missing an eye and an ear; even with what little I knew about Rachel - and even with how much of that was how angry and aggressive she could get - I doubted that the girl in question would ever hurt a dog - especially one of her own dogs - so I idly wondered about what sort of life Angelica had been through before she ended up in Rachel's care. The dog's owner still spooked me out a little bit, to say the least, but I felt myself become at least fractionally more sympathetic to Rachel after seeing the way that Angelica seemed calm and relaxed while curled up underneath where the girl herself was sitting.

    "Ah, shit." Every head in the room turned toward Aisha, who was giving a slight frown as she looked at the screen of her cell phone. "Brian says he can't make it today. Something about helping one of his professors out, I guess?" As Aisha placed her phone down onto the desk, she sighed and shook her head before giving a faux-exasperated roll of the eyes. "Mister Responsible, always gotta be helpin' everyone out and all that stuff."

    Lisa nudged me in the side at that, giving me an exaggerated look of put-on heartbreak, which caused me to playfully shove her, in return; Rachel, meanwhile, just sort of scowled and immediately began packing her things and getting ready to leave, not minutes after having arrived. "Wait, Rache', where are you going?" Lisa called after her, a slightly confused, slightly annoyed expression on my friend's face.

    Rachel was already halfway to the door when she stopped and turned around to look at the other four of us, Angelica sitting obediently by her master's side in the process. "Brian's not coming. We can't play Ransack. So I'm going home." Yikes, that was curt, wasn't it?

    Lisa leaned forward, raising an eyebrow as she put on one of her trademark smiles. "Rache'. We have five people here. We can still play Ransack."

    I felt rather stupid that it took me a few seconds to understand what Lisa meant, but the look of shock on my face must have been apparent considering the way that my friend gave me a shrug an awkward smile. Rachel appeared to have had something of a similar response, as the look on her face was more akin to something I'd expect out of Angelica than a regular person. "What? No. I'm not taking her into ranked. She just started playing two days ago, Lisa. She'll drag us down to platinum by the time we leave her if she played with us." Having looked over the ranked stuff in Ransack a little bit at one point, I understood generally what Rachel meant... And as much as I wanted to chafe at what she was saying, I couldn't deny that I probably wasn't at the skill level necessary to keep up with the opponents that they played again; it was enough that I didn't even mind the snorts coming from over where Aisha and Alec were sitting.

    Lisa, for her part, gave off an expression that suggested that she felt like she was talking to an elementary schooler, and I could tell that Rachel wasn't exactly happy about the condescending tone that her team mate was using. "We don't have to play ranked, Rachel. It doesn't even have to be against bots this time, either. I played some casual matches with Taylor last night, so we can just have some fun with that today, yeah? Just a nice way to mix things up; we don't always have to play ranked, y'know."

    Rachel crossed her arms, careful not to let the leash in her hands get tangled as she did so. "I don't play casual." It was simple, short, and to the point, much like most of what I'd seen Rachel do thus far. As Lisa spread a mocking grin across further across her face, the other girl furrowed her eyebrows from increasing annoyance and frustration.

    My fears of the situation continuing to escalate ramped up the moment I suddenly heard Aisha's voice. "Oh, c'mon, Rache'. You're not scared of casual play, are you?" I looked over and saw the black girl imitating a chicken with her arms whilst mouthing "Bwak bwak bwak." repeatedly; Alec had a hand over his mouth, clearly trying not that hard to hide his increasing mirth as he looked away. Lisa's expression, meanwhile, went from one of confidence to utter horror when she saw what Aisha was doing; I assumed that what Brian's sister was doing was probably a few ticks above the sort of provocation she wanted to deliver against Rachel.

    The whole room tensed up as Rachel started marching back our way, her feet stomping into the carpeted floor as Angelica tromped along beside the girl, and I readied myself for whatever Rachel was about to do; I thanked whatever lucky stars were looking over me, though, when the girl simply sat back down in her chair, turning the computer back on with an annoyed growl. "Fine. Whatever. But I'm playing Overlord. I'm not interested in being on a Hero team with a noobie."

    As Rachel clicked on her mouse hard enough that I was worried that the shoddy college-purchased equipment was going to shatter into a thousand pieces, Lisa just turned to me and offered an apologetic smile. I could only shrug and mouth a silent "It's okay." considering that I mostly understood where Rachel was coming from, anyways; she might have been being a bit of a bitch about it, sure, but I could understand why a professional like her would be annoyed by the prospect of having to play with a low-level player like myself. Regardless, I took the seat that had been meant for Brian, and turned the machine on while giving Aisha a concerned look in regard to the shenanigans she had just pulled; the girl simply shrugged and smiled nonchalantly, mouthing "Whaaat?" as Alec snorted at our exchange.

    I simply sighed and shook my head at the two jokesters, before Lisa tapped my shoulder and handed me a USB stick. "Here. Portable installer for Ransack, already has all the files, no downloads required. Just click the e-x-e file on the top folder and it'll do it for you."

    My eyes went wide as I examined the thumb drive, before I looked up at Lisa and gave an impressed nod in her direction. "Wow. I mean, I guess since you guys play here all the time that you'd get something like this set up, I suppose?" I plugged the USB stick into the university's computer, and waited as the ancient machine took a fair while to load up the files inside of the thumb drive. "I guess the computers here reset themselves every time you turn them off, or something?"

    Lisa nodded as she loaded up her own game of Ransack, arriving at the lobby screen after several seconds of loading. "Yeah. Alec once tried to figure out some way to keep that from happening, so that we could just have Ransack permanently installed on the ones in this back room, but... It didn't really work out, and the USB method works well enough that we didn't bother stressing over it too much." I hummed in acknowledgement as the installer on my flash drive finished offloading the Ransack files onto the computer, before automatically closing and bringing up the game's launcher.

    "You done over there, yet?" Rachel, over at her own computer - thankfully separated from me by the ever-graceful Lisa - was impatiently spinning the Overlord character she had selected around on the lobby screen, an annoyed look on her face even as she didn't bother to turn towards any of us while speaking.

    "Logging in right now, should only be a few more seconds." As Rachel let out an annoyed grunt, I did my best to keep any of my own animosity from seeping into my voice, even though I was fairly ruffled at the way that Rachel continued to give me grief over nothing of my own fault.

    As I reached the lobby screen, I started flipping through the characters I had unlocked, considering my options. I did want to play the Swarm Queen, of course, but if I was going to be playing with the Undersiders against real players - potentially of their skill level, even if it was in casual matches - I didn't want to pick a character that I still wasn't completely confident in. While Rachel just looked sidelong at me with impatience, Lisa turned to me and placed a hand on my shoulder, before smiling and saying: "Tay. You can play the Swarm Queen if you want."

    "Woah, wait, hold the fuckin' phone for a moment." Aisha, with her eyes wide, was practically leaning through all of Alec's personal space toward me; the boy simply leaned back to allow Aisha more room, though he certainly didn't seem shy about their physical proximity, either. "How the fuck do you already have the Swarm Queen?" More than anything, the girl just seemed excited, even happy for me that I had unlocked such a rare character.

    Lisa grinned at the other girl, and answered in a playful voice. "Would you believe me if I told you that it came out of her first lootbox?" Aisha's jaw dropped, and even Alec looked fairly impressed at my look.

    "Bullshit." Rachel, from our left. "Nobody gets a legendary on their first drop. You don't have to lie like that. Just admit that you bought it. Nobody cares."

    "Rache', come on." While Lisa, Alec and I tensed up at the accusation that had come out of left field from the butch girl, Aisha was apparently frustrated enough by her team mate's outburst that she felt the need to try and counter it. "Don't be jealous. Shit like that happens, yeah? Beginner's luck, and all, or whatever they call it?" Rachel glared across the other three of us toward Aisha at the opposite end of the row of computers; the black girl put her hands up plaintively as she spoke up again. "I'm just sayin', Rache'. No need to get your panties in a twist." I grit my teeth and clenched my jaw, praying to whoever was listening that this didn't escalate further; judging from Lisa's expression to the left of me, it seemed that she was doing something similar, especially considering that she was in the immediate line of fire from anything that would have been coming from Rachel.

    After several seconds of tension, Rachel simply opted to huff and return to impatiently spinning her Overlord around in the game. "Whatever. Not like it matters, she can't play it anyway."

    I bit my lip as I looked over toward Lisa, who had turned to gaze in my direction, as well; the expression shared between us communicated what we wanted to say without any words: "Should we tell her that I've been playing it, and been playing it decently well?" Lisa, after contorting her face in thought for several seconds, just gave me a nod and a surreptitious thumbs up, before looking to Alec and Aisha and giving them a "shush" finger along with a wink. Once I locked in my character as the Swarm Queen, the two of them nodded in appreciation at my choice, giving a thumbs-up back to Lisa and I. Rachel, apparently, hadn't noticed, the butch girl far too focused on her own stuff in the game, and Lisa was apparently betting on the idea that our team-mate would be too busy focused on playing Overlord to notice that I was playing the Queen.

    "Alright, everyone ready?" Lisa looked around the row of computers as she checked everyone's status; Rachel grunted, I nodded, Alec gave a thumbs-up, and Aisha gave a 'Hell yeah!'. Once everyone had confirmed preparations, Lisa - no, she was Tattletale, at that point - queued us into the game.'

    "Taylor." I turned to look at Regent, who had called my name; the boy was wearing an expression that was halfway between his usual bored, nonchalant look and idle curiosity. "What the hell is a Khepri?"

    Tattletale snorted loudly, and I firmly whacked her on the arm with the back of my hand, eliciting a humorous 'Ouch!' from her while I did my best to explain my choice of username to Regent. "It's, uhh..." I blushed a little bit as I scratched at my head sheepishly. "It's an ancient Egyptian god. Beetle-headed, rolled around the sun like a ball of dung, meant to symbolize growth and rebirth and stuff."

    Imp gave a half-grimace, half-smile as I saw her barely able to suppress the giggle she desperately wanted to let out. Regent raised an eyebrow, a smirk crossing his face as he continued his interrogation. "...you named yourself after an Egyptian dung beetle god?" My cheeks flushed even harder and even hotter as Imp burst out into laughter while our queue popped.

    As everyone pressed the confirmation button for the queue, I frantically tried to better explain the point of my name, embarrassment filling my body in the process. "No! It's not about the dung! It's... It's supposed to be like, really meaningful, about how like, fertilizer helps new things grow, just like how the energy from the sun does, and... Y'know, like... Augh!"

    Everyone except Hellhound was laughing by that point, and even I couldn't stop myself from having a few giggles at my own expense. "Okay, then. Whatever you say, dung-girl." Regent gave me a pair of finger guns, which I swatted away in exaggerated annoyance.

    "Do not call me dung-girl, or I swear on my life." I shook my head as our mediocre machines finally finished loading into the game; while I headed to the home base shop, I decided to needle back at Alec a little bit. "And what about King_Regent, huh? You know that kings and regents are two completely different things, right? Like, actually straight up opposites?" I had studied the way that items and equipment worked in Ransack; a lot of the items that dropped from dungeon monsters tended to be trash not worth anything except selling for whatever gold you could get for them - on occasion, a good, usable item would drop, but it was a fairly rare occurrence - so much of gear management came at the merchants either at the home base or where the enemy Overlord placed them in their dungeon. I had found a few "builds" that gave bonus stats to minions, and I decided to try and purchase my way up to the items that gave me those sort of buffs.

    I took a moment to study the characters my team mates were playing. Regent had picked some chivalrous looking knight character, wielding a longsword in one hand and a heater shield in the other; a classic look for a Tank type, really. Tattletale was using a character similar to the one I had first seen her use, but a quick click onto it and a brief examination of her skills revealed nothing that qualified her as a Support; she seemed to have gone for a purely Melee focused character for that game. Imp, surprisingly enough, was the one playing the Support, but it was one that - curiously enough - had minions, just like my Swarm Queen; little faeries flitted around her character, and I assumed that - once the party started taking damage - that they would begin to heal us. I made a mental note to try and unlock whatever class was the base for Imp's character.

    Imp responded to my earlier question from the opposite side of Regent himself. "Alright, get this, yeah? It was supposed to be King_Regnant, but he didn't know the difference, so he put King_Regent in, instead. By the time that anybody pointed it out, though, he was too proud to change it." A devilish smile that suited her name appeared on Imp's face, while one of her fingers poked at Regent's arm playfully. The boy himself just shook his head in annoyance as he ran his character around the home base, waiting for the ready period to finish; Tattletale and I took that opportunity to have a few laughs at Regent's frustration, though Hellhound was apparently too focused on her Overlord stuff to care about the conversation that we were having.

    And then, just as the ready period timer was almost up, and just as Imp, Tattletale, Regent and I got ready to run into the enemy dungeon, Brian walked in through the door. "Hey, guys. Sorry I'm late. Professor really needed help with something." All five of us that were in-game froze for a few seconds as we stared at the newly arrived Brian, and Tattletale had to nudge me with her elbow to get me to following along with the rest of the team into the dungeon. "...what?" The team captain stared at us dumbfounded, not quite understanding why we had been looking at him like that. "Oh. Wait. You guys are already playing? I mean, I guess that's fine. I can sit one out so that Taylor can play, no biggie."

    As Brian made his way back toward the row of computers we were sitting at, Hellhound glared up at him. "Imp said that you were going to be gone for the whole day. So they convinced me to let Khepri play a casual game with us. But now you're here?"

    He looked momentarily confused at the name "Khepri", but seemed to understand that it was referring to me quickly enough; after he figured that out, though, he looked over toward Imp with a partial scowl on his face. "Imp. Aisha. Why did you tell them that I wasn't going to show up at all?"

    Imp glanced in annoyance toward her brother for a moment as we began beating up a room full of what looked to be fairly typical human soldiers or guardsmen or something. "You said that you were going to be there until seven, bro."

    Brian crossed his arms, staring down his sister with a look that suggested that he had to deal with that kind of stuff on a regular basis with her. "No. I said that I might be there until one, but that I might also get out earlier than that."

    Imp, amazingly enough, managed to use one hand to grab her phone and bring up her text messages while the other hand worked her faeries, sending them around to heal the most critically damaged of the party. "Oooh. Oh shit." The girl cracked a smile, looking very sheepish and nervous as she turned toward the rest of us. "Uhh. I guess I confused the number '1' for a '7'? Haha. Uhh. Sorry about that, guys."

    Everyone else in the room - everyone else - stopped what they were doing to turn and stare at Imp in disbelief. Hellhound, blunt as always, expressed what we all wanted to say to her. "Are you fucking serious? You couldn't have taken the three additional seconds needed to check your eyes and make sure you saw the time right?" Imp just smiled wide, bit her lip anxiously, and turned her attention fully back to the game. Hellhound just half-sighed, half-growled in annoyance as she, too, focused back on her Overlord stuff. "What-fucking-ever. At least we can get back to ranked matches after this."

    Several awkward seconds passed as we all returned to Ransacking - I idly wondered if anybody used that word - clearing one room, leveling up, and moving to the next after having grabbed a few starter pieces of loot from the enemies. Brian leaned in towards my screen, and I felt myself suddenly become very conscious of his body so close to mine, the pecs underneath his shirt, the peak of a collarbone, and oh, he smelled kind of nice, and... "Oh, wow. You're playing the Swarm Queen?" And was kind of fucking stupid, too. No, I couldn't blame him. He didn't know that we were trying to keep that bit a secret from Hellhound, considering how she had reacted to the earlier news that I had unlocked her at all. I saw the butch girl tense up to my left as she clicked onto the team menus, staring hard at my character details, and the fact that "SWARM QUEEN" was highlighted in gold next to my username; once again was made all too aware of the Tattletale-barrier between myself and her. Everyone except Brian was waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop from Hellhound, but all of us seemed to let out a simultaneous sigh of relief when we realized that she wasn't going to blow up about it. "...what? Did I say something?" The look that all of us gave Brian only seemed to confuse him further, but none of us wanted to go into more detail, and certainly not in the middle of a game.

    "...just don't fucking ruin it for the others, Khepri." Hellhound had finally spoken up, but it was significantly more level than any of us had expected. I took strong note of the fact that she had referred not to herself but to 'the others'. The girl, in spite of all of her roughness and aggressiveness, was concerned about her team mates more than anything; she might have made me feel like I was about to have my head bit off at any given moment, but I could appreciate that sort of mentality, no matter who it came from.

    As Brian pulled back out of my personal space - which I was both thankful and disappointed for - I nodded over in Hellhound's direction, making sure to turn and look at her as I spoke. "Yeah. Don't worry. I won't let them down." The other girl gave another one of her characteristic grunts, and it seemed like the subject had thankfully and peacefully been dropped.

    Between Hellhound and myself, though, I noticed the beginning of a smirk on Tattletale's face; I scrunched my eyebrows together in concern and gave a quick glance in her direction, wondering what she was about to do. In a sing-song, mocking voice, Tattletale imitated my words while we beat down a contingent of armored knights. "'Yeah. Don't worry. I won't let them down.'" I could hear the beginnings of laughter from over where Regent and Imp were, while Tattletale continued her needling with the grin on her face fully formed. "Seriously, Khepri. This keeps happening, and I keep telling you. You're so fucking cheesy some times, girl. Are you sure you're not a theater major, or something?"

    A smile appeared on my own face even as I began to feel a blush form on my cheeks once more. "Oh shut up, you." I elbowed Tattletale in the side as the rest of the room erupted into mirth. Imp and Regent were laughing, of course, as were I and Tattletale, but Brian behind us gave a few deep, rumbling, angelic chuckles, and even Hellhound cracked a solid grin at our shenanigans.

    "Hey, Hellhound, drop some help for us? This is the last room before the miniboss, would be good for us to go into that fresh and topped off." Returning her focus to the game, Tattletale asked for some assistance from Hellhound; the girl playing Overlord grunted, and a large dragon dropped down into the room to help us eliminate the enemies there. While we started chewing our way through the guardsmen and archers arrayed before us - literally, in the case of my minions - I took a moment to take a quick look at my surroundings. On Monday, I had been a bit overwhelmed, playing a new video game with so many complex concepts and things to learn. I had enjoyed it, of course, and I had enjoyed the company that the Undersiders had provided me with then, but I hadn't really had the experience with the game or any sort of chance to really appreciate what I had been doing at that time; at that moment on Wednesday, though, as our party prepared to enter the miniboss' room, all of my team mates full of energy and tension as we shared in the game of Ransack together, I was able to have a second to just revel in all of it.

    "Hey, Tattletale?" I quietly tried to grab my friend's attention, and she looked toward me with a soft noise of acknowledgment. "Thanks. For everything."

    I had expected that she would know what I meant, and she didn't disappoint, either. "Of course, Khepri. You're more than welcome."

    I nodded, smiled, and turned back to the game.
     
    a2znut and Scopas like this.
  15. Scopas

    Scopas Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Well, in terms of getting Bitch to cool her jets, I guess a round of Ransack is better then a savage beating! Unless Taylor really drops the ball, that is...
     
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