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This one isn’t technically a short story; it’s more of a slice of one. But there is no larger story surrounding the scene as it was a single idea that never blended with any others. That advice you hear sometimes about writers having to delete scenes they love because they don’t work with the project? This would fit into that category pretty well. I want to share this scene with you anyway because I know if I don’t it will merely sit in a save file forever untouched and alone.

I wrote this piece many years ago, back during a time I raided on an MMORPG. I don’t anymore because it was far too time-consuming, yet I have a lot of love for that time, and a lot of fond memories, both of people I’d met and the games we’d played. This story was an exercise within that mind frame. If you’re not a gamer yourself there are likely many references and slang you won’t recognize, but I wouldn’t let that stop you from enjoying the energy of the piece :)

* * *

Austin cursed as another one died. Not into the microphone though. He button smashed, holding one finger posed over his interrupt as his others maneuvered his character around behind the boss.

Then two healers died at the same time. Bam. Bam. And that was all she wrote. He watched as the main tank went from full health to nothing in two seconds flat during the boss’s special attack. The off tank held him for a few moments, but it was a losing battle before it’d begun and the boss turned and systematically took out the rest of the raid. Austin didn’t even bother trying to run like a few of the other guys did. Just sighed and stood, the echoing sounds of the boss’s emotes ringing in his ears as he bent to open the fridge for a drink.

“Motherfucker,” said Ira. That was the off tank. Ira, short for Irabelle. The first e had a squiggle over it as if it somehow made the name cooler. “What the fuck, people?” Thirteen or fourteen, Austin guessed, and still overly enthralled with the fact he could cuss online.

Austin pulled a water from the fridge, then went and grabbed a hoho before going to sit back down at the computer. The dorm room was quiet around him. His roommate escaped on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday nights because he couldn’t stand Austin’s hobby, which was more than okay for Austin because he didn’t have to feel self-conscious or embarrassed if Paul brought anyone around.

“Soo…” said Mango. Raid leader and one of the main healers. “What exactly happened there?”

Austin rolled his eyes and stuffed the last of his hoho into his mouth. Mango should be the one to know what happened. Should be the one correcting people’s mistakes, leading them in the right direction, but damnit, he was pathetically incapable unless Des—rogue dps, short for Desbledsallot—told him what was going on.

There was a ping and Austin glanced down at the yellow private message as he took a swig from his water bottle.

I died! I died! Please someone explain to me HOW that could POSSIBLY happen when I’m standing in the fucking fire???

Austin almost spit water all over his computer. He swallowed more air than water and twisted the cap back on as he let himself silently laugh at Hail’s pm. Another came before he even put his fingers back to the keys.

It’s not like its bright purple or anything!

And then another. It’s not like there was no one else standing near me blocking my view!

And one more. Damn, Hail typed fast. It’s not like we haven’t done this goddamned fight a million times already tonight that maybe, just maybe! I should know what the hell is going on!

Austin typed back, Maybe his graphics are turned down?

There was a long pause where a few people spoke over the mic trying to figure what to change for the next attempt, led by Des, who shouldn’t be leading and who totally ignored the fact that Mango was the idiot who had wiped the raid. Austin didn’t even bother listening very hard, instead focusing on putting his enchants back on and buffing.

Maybe his brain is turned down? typed Hail.

Austin chuckled at the joke and typed back, Maybe we should twenty-four man it. Kick Mango and let Des lead.

I wish, typed Hail. Impossible though. Mango has a sister. A real live girl! Who plays! Doesn’t matter that she’s not hot. Des will kiss his ass over cybersex despite the fact he won’t ever get anything for real.

Mango’s sister was actually one of the other healers—a priest named LuvAndPeace. A better healer than Mango himself if Austin and Hail had anything to say about it, but she was quiet and generally didn’t play, or even pm, with anyone but her brother, Des and Snow. In other words…the officers. Austin was waiting for the day they announced she had become an officer too. It was amazing how someone so quiet could control so much of what went on in the damn guild.

Mango probably doesn’t even know they cybersex in the chatroom, typed Austin.

Ha! They get soooo quiet whenever I hop into their room. I keep hoping to catch them saying something.

Austin started typing something back but paused when he heard Des address him over the mic. “Hey, Linnie, you listening, man? You afk?”

Austin pushed down his talk button and said, “I’m here. What’s up?”

“You missed that interrupt. You can’t miss the interrupts. It wipes the raid.”

Austin blinked at the computer, shocked.

Hail’s pm popped up on his screen a second later. Holy fuck, they be blaming you!

Over the mic came Hail’s soothing voice. Deeper when he wanted it, but so calm and utterly sexy…not that Austin would ever tell the guy that. “Des, man. I just checked the interrupt chart. Linnie had five to your three and Gelstad’s four. I’m thinking you can’t blame the wipe on him.”

“But that last was his responsibility and he missed it, wiping the raid.”

“Mango and Helheals were already down, man. So was Zeus. We were already gone when that blinding cast went off. Seriously. If you want to complain about someone, tell Mango and Hel to get their asses out of the bright purple fissures on the ground.”

“Hey!” said Mango.

There were another couple of voices, but they were distorted from too many people talking at once.

Des overrode them all. “Cool it! Mango is the best heals we got. I out-dps Linnie every fight. When Linnie starts pulling over thirty-k dps, I’ll start believing he’s paying attention.”

Austin felt his face flush with anger, but he kept his finger off his talk button, opting instead to send a scathing pm to Hail. What the fuck? How am I supposed to out-dps him when he gets all the freaking gear??? I have yet to get one drop in here.

I know rite  typed Hail. His voice came over the speakers again as the pm popped up on Austin’s screen. “How bout we all just agree to do better and heals agree to stay out of fissures that kill.”

“I had to get a heal off on Zeus,” snapped Mango, sounding more like Ira, the recalcitrant freshman in high school than the almost twenty-five year old office worker Austin knew him to be.

Hail didn’t respond over the mic, but he did send another pm to Austin. Yep, getting one heal on the MT was totally worth wiping the raid over. Idiot.

Austin agreed, wishing he had Hail’s confidence to push things over the other twenty-four members of the raid. Normally, he only spoke when spoken to or when he needed to during a boss fight, but given his job wasn’t nearly as imperative as the tanks and healers, he rarely ever had to say a damn word.

His screen made a flourishing sound and a ready-check popped up. He pushed yes and then typed to Hail, I’ll bet a shard that we wipe because of Mango again.

Five shards we get dps starved and wipe from mana depletion because the other heals try to pick up Mango’s slack and let a few of us die.

Austin typed back, Damn, that’s pretty specific. He was going to type more about it still being Mango’s fault but Zeus was pulling and Des was calling out the interrupt rotation, so he just pushed enter and rushed in, fingers flying.

First phase went without a hitch, except for one of the dps falling off a platform and having to pop a cooldown to make it back up alive. Not a biggie. Too many of those though…

Second phase was intense, but Hail started shouting out fissure locations and wasn’t passive-aggressive about it at all, calling people out like a raid leader should. He should be the raid leader in Austin’s opinion. “Hel, man, you got a fissure opening under you.”

“I see it!” snapped Hel.

“Then move!”

Helheals didn’t respond after that, probably too focused as a healing intense blast went off, landing dot damage to the whole raid. A few moments later Hail was announcing another one, this one under the melee dps. Austin thanked him silently and skirted to the right, finding great pleasure in the fact that Des was slow to move and almost got himself killed, health less than twenty percent by the time he joined Austin’s toon and the rest of the melee dps.

And still Hail was second dps on the chart, behind only Kink—a hunter who actually knew how to play his damn toon. Another hunter followed Hail and behind him, sitting in fourth was Des. Austin’s female rogue was further down hovering above fifteenth, but never making it past tenth regardless of how many cooldowns he popped and how on he was with his rotation.

They slid into the third phase with only two deaths, least they’d had all night. Mango died—typical—and was b-rezed. The boss literally had five percent health left when the healers abruptly couldn’t keep up the main tank. Zeus went down. Ira picked up the boss like he had before and the dps started falling from the secondary attack Ira had been soaking.

Des first because his dps put him highest on the threat meter. Four percent. Then Snow—short for something that always made Austin wonder as to the guy’s sexuality.

“Pop everything you got, people,” said Des over the mic. Austin would have rolled his eyes if he hadn’t been so focused, but he did spare a nasty thought about Des leading from the grave.

Three percent.

Ira started cursing over the mic, a litany of fucks that he probably thought made him sound cool. Yesir went down. Then Sauron.

Two percent.

Austin’s finger hovered over a cooldown, waiting as the seconds ticked by. Three. Two. One. He popped it and smacked one of his biggest attacks.

One percent.

“Hooo boy!” shouted someone, but he couldn’t recognize the voice.

Austin was next to take the soak, he knew it. He slammed his fingers down on his attacks, trying to get as much dps in before he fell. Ira’s health dipped dangerously low with two-thirds of the raid down. No, more than two-thirds.

Then the boss dropped, leaving Hail still sitting in second place on the damage meter, but with Austin’s toon jumped to tenth because of all the deaths. Austin breathed out a contented sigh and flexed his fingers as people wooted into the mic and in the chat log.

“Fi-na-lee!” said Kink.

Someone jumped the gun and looted before everyone could be rezzed and just as Austin was about to make a snarky comment about it to Hail he froze, recognizing one of his tier pieces. Legs. He let his curser hover over it, sighing in longing as Des reprimanded whoever had looted, though Kink didn’t sound at all apologetic as he mumbled something about how people shouldn’t be releasing and they were idiots if they did.

That’s yours, man!! Congratz! pmed Hail.

It would be his, wouldn’t it? He had the most points because everyone else had spent all theirs during the previous two weeks on all the drops coming from the first four bosses in the raid. Austin had always come up short, but not tonight. Tonight he had the most.

Thanks! Not as awesome as getting a new wep, but pretty damn close! He typed.

Omg, stop whining. You’re finally getting something out of Maudlin, just be happy.

He popped a macro that would fill Hail’s chat box with a middle finger just as Mango announced the piece Austin wanted.

Not tonight, I’m busy being a nerd. Hey, want to run some dungeons after Mango finishes waxing about reading strats he never bothers to read himself?

Sure. Think Zeus would be up for it? Austin back-slashed into guild leader chat and typed his points in for the legs he wanted.

I’ll ask. I’ll ask Kink too. We’ll just need a healer.

Everly just got on, I’ll tap her and see if she’s doing something with her own guild.

Sweet.

Unless you wanted to ask Mango or Hel or Luv…

HELL NO!

“Tier legs going to Des.”

Austin froze. What the fuck? He blinked and his chat log said that Des received the legs. Then he pmed Mango, Hey, what’s going on? I know I had more points than he did.

Hail pmed, Sooooo fucked up!

Austin didn’t respond to him, too pissed to think clearly and not wanting to lash out at Hail. Hail never got shortchanged. He was the best damn wizard, the one who never missed a raid, always read strats, hell he even helped the guild bank make money before every raid and was the guilds enchanter, the one who got every pattern that dropped. He was damn near indispensable.

But Linnie? Linnie was just another freaking rogue who came in behind the times after being fed up with his old low-populated server and pathetic guild, found Hail and joined his guild, thinking that things would be different.

Damnit, it wasn’t Hail’s fault that the guild leader and the officers were pansy idiots who got crazed when there was a pussy involved.

Mango’s pm popped up then. Sorry, man, but he had more than you. You missed a day last week, remember?

Austin’s mouth dropped. Last week they’d rescheduled Thursday for Friday and since Austin had a class Friday night he couldn’t make it. So not fucking fair. Plus, he highly doubted that Des had managed to get enough points in one night to make up for all the spending he’d been doing.

He didn’t bother responding. Just crushed his hoho wrapper and went to throw it away. Stupid really to get so upset about a piece of imaginary gear on an imaginary game, but he was anyway, no matter how stupid it might seem to anyone else. It mattered. It stung. Worse than the time he’d accidently deleted a toon he’d spent days leveling.

He flopped back into his computer chair, conscious his ass was aching from sitting there for almost three hours straight and glared at all the jumping characters on his screen. Des got a port out of the raid so he could turn in his token for his legs and came back with them gemmed and had all the mats for Hail to enchant them.

“We’re going to go ahead and check the Bird lady out once so that we can all get a little feel for her before we try her for real on Sunday night. Right side when you walk through the hall,” said Mango.

Austin put himself on follow and started typing to Hail. I’m so sick of this. I really am. There’s no fucking way he had more points than I did. No way. Not even sure I want to come in on Sunday when there’s no chance I’ll even get anything. He looked up before he pushed enter to notice that both Hail and Zeus had messaged him.

Zeus. Why don’t we start doing Fiver again? I can start up a raid on a night you have free. I’m good fri and tues. Can’t do sat or mon.

And Hail. Talked to Zeus and going to make him do Fiver again so you can get that wep off the last boss. Stupid that Mango and Des don’t want to run it anymore. Just cause Maudlin is new doesn’t mean everyone has everything they could need out of Fiver. Geez. You’d think they organize the whole thing for themselves.

Austin put his chin in his hand, not typing what he really thought. It wasn’t just for Mango and Des. They had their whole core group of people that they ran ten-man’s with. Zeus and Hail among them. The rest had to make due.

But Hail was being awesome and Austin certainly didn’t want to turn down the offer even if it felt like a pity-fuck. Oh no. No, no, no, Austin, you are not allowed to think about that right now. Not ever. Doesn’t matter how sexy Hail’s voice is, you don’t even know what the guy looks like, plus he probably lives on the other side of the freaking world.

Okay. Not true. He lived in the same time-zone that Austin did, but Austin had only deduced that one day during a conversation about eight-o’clock classes and how as a junior he didn’t have them anymore. Besides, ten to one says he ain’t gay. Or attractive.

He sighed and shook the eerie thoughts from his head and put his fingers back to the keys, deleting what he had written before, glad he hadn’t sent that emotional tirade. To Hail he wrote, Thanks, man. Up for tuesdays?

To Zeus. Tuesdays?

I’ll have to be late tues, but I can make it, pmed Hail.

Zeus just typed back, Sure thing.

Austin kept to himself as they pulled the Bird lady and promptly wiped. The raid attempted her twice more before someone claimed they had to go, leading to a chorus of others joining in. Austin didn’t even wait for Mango to call it before leaving the raid.

Less than thirty seconds later came Hail’s invite and within ten minutes they had all popped themselves into a different chat room and were starting a five-man with Everly on heals.

“I’m going to start a new toon,” said Hail over the mic.

“I’ll bet it doesn’t get past level twenty,” said Austin.

“Fifteen,” said Kink.

“Let me finish. Geez. I’m not that bad.”

“Yes, you are,” said Austin.

“Maybe. Okay, I’ll start over. I think we should all start new toons and name them after fruit.”

Austin narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out where Hail was going with this and then chuckled under his breath as he responded. “I claim Peaches.”

“What? No! I was going to be Princess Peach,” said Hail.

“I claim Snozberries,” said Zeus.

“How long till you think Mango catches on?” asked Kink.

“Probably never,” said Austin.

“You’re right. Ha! How long until Luv or Des catch on and tell Mango?”

“A week. Max. Oooh! We could start a new guild called Fruit Loops. Only let people in who are fruity,” said Hail.

“Who taste good,” added Austin.

“Sorry Kink, that means you’re out,” said Hail.

“Hey, I haven’t even picked a name yet. Plus, I’ll have you know that my girl thinks I taste realllly good,” said Kink.

“Less talking, more killing,” said Zeus.

After a semi-quiet moment—Hail made a point of scoffing at Kink’s imaginary girl—where they downed a boss, Austin said, “Hey, Plum Pudding, my dps almost matched yours. Pa-the-tic. Did our fruity conversation get you all worked up you had to spare a hand under your desk?”

“I know you’re not talking to me,” said Hail.

“Plum Pudding!” called Kink. “I’m calling you that in raid from now on.”

Hail lifted his voice in an impression of a dead terrorist. “I kill you!”

“Plum Pudding,” sang Kink again.

After another long moment, Everly finally spoke, her voice nothing but a sigh into the mic. “I wish I was in your guild. You guys actually know how to have fun.”

“Baby, we wish you were too,” crowed Kink. “Dump them and come be my peaches and cream!”

“I’m Peaches,” said Austin. “And I’m definitely not yours.”

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