“What…is this?” Tiffany asked me, turning her character toward me. I noticed that her character was frowning; she had motion capture turned on. Shit, how good was her computer that it could handle face tracking? “Turn voice chat on you goober.”
I didn’t like to use voice chat, mainly because I didn’t like the sound of my own voice but what could it hurt? She knew who I was. I switched it on, paused for a second, and then, finally spoke, attempting to sound as feminine as possible.
“It’s the Everburning Mines,” I said. “I’ve been here like…a million times.”
“Not that,” Her voice came loud and clear through the mic. “Look at your spell bar, are any of your teleports greyed out?”
My eyes wandered to the top of the screen and I saw that all of my ports were disabled. Evac, call to home, call to guild hall, recall, all of it. They were all greyed out. Then I noticed another icon had appeared on my buff bar. I scrolled my mouse over it and read the description: ‘Permadeath – Due to quest conditions, death in this area will result in deletion of character from server’.
“Tiffany,” I said as calmly as possible. “What quest do you have?”
“It’s uh…Bright Ambitions…the one for the class hat. Why?”
“Share the quest with me, in your tracker, please,” I think my voice was starting to crack. I read over the quest as it popped up on my screen. ‘Bright Ambitions – Epic X4’. Holy shit. “Okay, Tiffany? This is the Epic X4 version of the quest, you shouldn’t even be able to pick this quest up unless you defeated Balgramash in the Mythic raid instance in the newest expansion and only one guild has done tha---”
I paused for a moment and looked at the guild name above her head. Oh.
“What’s the problem?” She demanded “Can’t we just go get the hat?”
“Yeah…” I confirmed. “But here’s the thing, Tiff, this quest is an Epic X4, it’s meant for eight people. It’s um…if we die in here we lose our characters.”
“What?!” Her voice screeched over the mic, I recoiled back in my chair and whimpered at the stress transferred to my sprained ankle. Thank god no one was in the Tri Pi house, they would have come running. Ever since I’d gotten here they’d been waiting on me hand and foot, even insisting that I make an appointment with some therapist. I don’t know what their deal was. “I can’t lose my character! I’ve played this since launch! Shit, shit shit! I’m out of here!”
I watched her character as it flew past me, to the door of the dungeon. As I expected, it didn’t open.
“I’ve paid for things on this character! I bought this outfit on the marketplace!”
“Tiffany,” I said calmly, but she interrupted me before I could get anything else out.
“What do we do Audrey? What the hell do we do?!”
“We get the hat,” I said, speaking calmly once again. “We get down to that sub-floor and fight the four bosses, and then we take the hat. It’s just…going to be a little harder than normal.”
“Audrey,” Tiffany said, her voice way too shaky. “I’m a brigand, you’re a wizard. We don’t have a tank, we don’t have a priest, we’re going to die.”
“I can fill in for the priest,” I said. “I have a stack of restoration scrolls and I can create a n arcane barrier around us that blocks physical attacks. I should have enough concentration to create a physical barrier as well. Then you can stand behind it and attack them with your melee. It’s a little half-assed but not impossible.”
“Ugh…okay…you’re the expert here,” She said. I don’t know how much of an expert I was, based on her level. She’d been playing this for a long time. Then again it was possible to play an MMO forever and still have no idea how it worked. Maybe that’s what was happening here.
We stepped forward into the dungeon, walking in silence until we reached the first marker. Ahead I could see the monsters, copies of the ones from the overworld which would have been harmless up there. Down here they were Heroic X3 and would human centipede Tiffany and I together if they got their hands on a sewing kit. We had to be ready. I quickly moved forward and cast the arcane shield while Tiffany charged into it, sword drawn and taking the first swipe.
“I’m not doing any damage!” She screamed. “Nothing’s happening!”
“I’m casting a mitigation debuff,” I said calmly. “It’ll reduce their resistance to physical damage by 8. Cast your damage multiplier to increase your damage by 12, I’ll cast hateful respite, it’ll multiply your damage by 32 every 8 seconds multiplied by the amount of damage you do pers second.”
“What?!” She shouted frantically.
“Just use your damage multiplier.”
She must have done it right because somehow she struck a rhythm and began to cut them down. It took longer than it should have but one by one, the creatures fell behind he shield until there was a pile of bodies, fresh for the stepping-over. We divided the loot, which wasn’t all that great but it was better than nothing.
“I still want to talk to you,” She said. “I want to know how you’re feeling.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked curiously. “I mean…like…you’ve never cared before?”
“Look, I act tough but I do actually care how you’re feeling. We’ve put you through a lot, the whole girl thing was-“
“My fault,” I said to her as we made our way down the hall and took a left, into a room that looked like nothing but a giant trap. “I broke into your house, I put Aleah’s dress on. So you guys took it out of my hide, so to speak, but I have to learn to take responsibility for my own actions. You didn’t actually blackmail me, I could have walked away at any time, but do you know why I stuck around?”
There was a moment of silence, as if she was really thinking about how to answer that. I took advantage of her silence to answer anyway.
“I stayed because it was what I wanted. Do you know how long I’ve fantasized about being a girl? Like, do you know how incredible it was to me that a group of girls in a SORORITY suddenly wanted to turn me into one of them? You don’t get it, Tiffany. Under all this, I’m a girl. There’s a girl, in my head, trapped, and she wants to get out. I would have been so afraid to admit that before you guys got your hands on me, but you…you did so many things for me-“
“We practically tortured you,” She said pointedly.
“A little,” I admitted. “But…you made me…more confident. You…made me understand that my fantasies weren’t just fantasies, Tiffany. You…showed me that I CAN be this. I…I can be Audrey in more than just the game. I can be her in real life and I can’t thank you enough for that.”
“I guess that…maybe it makes sense,” She sort of stuttered. “Maybe you can thank me by helping me get this hat?”
“The hat would be a start,” I chuckled. “Okay, next room. I’m going to cast Arcane Presence, you get your sword ready.”
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