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Level 65 Paladin Looking for Group

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[HoM]Parkouroge: Hands of Midas looking for new members! Join now! PVP, PVE, ALL WELCOME! /w Parkouroge for invites!

[MoV]Sockattack: WTS: legendary GUN weapons! WTB: metal ores in bulk! all kinds! /w for details


[SCA]WizardsDoItWithFire: Selling Malefice Shards! PM ME!

SigSour: lvl 65 PLD LFG level break quest. i've got the keys already, just need to run through HG and kill Araxthor.

John's message is pushed to the top of the chat window, then out of it, within half a minute. While he waits, he checks his things on the market; several of his things, mostly stacks of things collected from mobs, have sold, but nothing high-value enough to get him enough gold to upgrade his spells.

No responses, so he hits the paste command on his keyboard, and sends it again.

SigSour: lvl 65 PLD LFG level break quest! i've got the keys already, just need to run through HG and kill Araxthor.

Again, no responses aside from a couple off-hand comments from higher-level players about how much they'd hated Araxthor. Not helpful. The worst part of it, really, is that he can't do anything else. He can't level any higher until he finishes the quest and unless he wants to spend tens of hours grinding for cash, he can't even level his crafting skills.

SigSour: please? level 65 Paladin looking for help with his level break quest. i'm at the last part and already have the keys. all I need is a group to go through HG and kill Araxthor with me.

He's approaching the thirty-minute mark, thirty minutes of sitting in a trade hub looking for a party, when someone finally takes notice.

Stradivari has invited you to a party.

SigSour: hi! thanks for helping! we just need four more now, i'm hoping for a CLR and at least two more DD.

SigSour: 2/6 LF more for level 65 level break quest, HG and Araxthor! have keys, ready to go as soon as the party's full. need healer.

Stradivari: Go.

SigSour (to Stradivari): can't. we've only got the two of us. do you have any friends online who can help?

Stradivari: We don't need anyone else. Start the quest.

SigSour (to Stradivari): WTF? yes we do. we don't even have a proper healer yet. if we go, we'll get slaughtered.

Stradivari: I'm leaving in five minutes if you don't go.

SigSour (to Stradivari): five minutes is all I need

SigSour: 2/6 LF more for level 65 level break quest, HG and Araxthor! have keys, ready to go as soon as the party's full. need healer.

Stradivari: Thirty seconds.

Stradivari: Fifteen.

Stradivari: Five.

Stradivari: Are you going or not?

SigSour (to Stradivari): WE CAN'T GO. there's not enough of us.

Stradivari has left the party. SigSour is now party leader.

You have invited Stradivari to join your party.

SigSour (to Stradivari): wait wait fine! i'll start it as soon as you join, okay? but when we fail it, just remember i told you we didn't have enough people.

Stradivari has joined the party.

The keys can only be combined and activated once per day but the server resets at midnight and John's not sure he even wants to spend another hour trying to get more people just to try a quest they might very well still fail with a full party. So, he right-clicks one of the keys in his inventory and selects "activate".

At least, he thinks while the zone loads, he won't be the only one to die.

The zone loads.

Stradivari eats a Sauteed Nightflyer Wing!
Stradivari drinks a Chilled Moonlit Wine!
Stradivari drinks a Potion of Agility! He looks much faster!
Stradivari drinks an unknown potion from a flask!
Stradivari drinks an unknown potion from a flask!
Stradivari drinks an unknown potion from a flask!
Stradivari drinks an unknown potion from a flask!
Stradivari activates Xylon's Cloak of Shadows. Stradivari fades from view.

Stradivari: Don't touch anything. Don't leave the starting zone. I am an Assassin, not a Cleric, not a Medic, not a Paladin. I will not revive anyone who dies.

Stradivari: I will take anything that looks interesting and send you the rest.

Stradivari has gone AFK.

Wait. What? Stradivari's avatar had disappeared from John's screen as soon as he'd activated his cloak, but his marker on the minimap is in motion, running down the cave's tunnels before John's even had time to bring up his buffs menu.

SigSour (to Stradivari): what are you doing?

Auto-response from Stradivari: Busy.

SigSour (to Stradivari): where are you going? the wiki says you're supposed to go down the right tunnel, not the left.

Auto-response from Stradivari: Busy.

The Assassin had been invisible when he'd chosen the first tunnel, easily bypassing the first few mobs in the central area. John... is not so invisible.

Maybe if he stuck as close to the far wall as possible?

The decaying dragonling starts casting Sap.
The decaying dragonling starts casting Enfeeble.
The decaying dragonling starts casting Weaken.
The decaying dragonling casts Sap. SigSour is slowed.
The decaying dragonling casts Enfeeble. SigSour's attack is lowered.
The decaying dragonling cast Weaken. SigSour's defense is lowered.

The mesmerized dragonfly hits SigSour for 87 damage.

Or not.

There's no way he can take all four of the mobs at once, so he doesn't even try.

SigSour has fallen!

SigSour (to Stradivari): seriously, what are you doing?

Auto-response from Stradivari: Busy.

Stradivari: Soloing your quest for you.

SigSour: you can't solo level break quests.

Auto-response from Stradivari: Busy.

Stradivari: You can't, perhaps, but I can. Stop typing. You're distracting me. I need to focus.

Stradivari's out of mini map range and John can't do anything but send private messages now that he's dead, so he alt-tabs to check his email and try to figure out what his therapist wants him to put on his blog. Every once in a while, he tabs back to check his game window, but there's never any change. Still dead. Assassin still missing.

Until John tabs back in and finds his character idling in front of the auction house.

He quickly scrolls up the system log, turning on the filter that hides all the extra local and shout spam from being at the auction house.

Araxthor has been defeated!
Araxthor drops a decaying dragon shard.
Araxthor drops a decaying dragon gem.
Araxthor drops an Araxthor's shoulder blade.
Stradivari obtains a decaying dragon shard.
Stradivari obtains a decaying dragon gem.
Stradivari obtains an Araxthor's shoulder blade.
Leaving zone in 30 seconds.
Stradivari is no longer AFK.

Stradivari: Done. I will mail your share of the loot to the party leader.

Stradivari has left the party.

Holy shit.

John's pretty sure he's thought that already, but he thinks it again, because holy shit, he'd just watched an Assassin solo a full-party dungeon and the boss at the end in less than two hours. While he'd gotten himself killed in the first five minutes and been entirely useless.

SigSour (to Stradivari): wow, I just got back from being afk. thanks for the help. :D

Stradivari is not online.


When John signs into the game the next evening, laptop shoved slightly to the right to make room for the takeaway he's having for dinner, nothing in the marketplace has sold. He has 20k in his inbox, enough to buy most of his level 66 skills when he levels up, sent from Stradivari.

But what really catches his eye is the shield with a thick white outline around the borders of the square it's in: Araxthor Bone Shield +1.

SigSour (to Stradivari): did you just send me an arax shield +1?

Stradivari: Your inbox should tell you when you mouse over the object. It displays above the item name.

SigSour (to Stradivari): dont' be a git. that's not what i meant. did you send it to me on purpose??

Stradivari: I crafted it and couldn't be bothered to find a buyer. You can have it.

SigSour (to Stradivari): thanks. i mean it. for helping me with the quest and for the gear and everything. i really appreciate it.

Stradivari: I only had a 50 percent chance at succeeding and I was much more likely to craft a normal quality shield. Also, I kept nearly everything from the treasure boxes I looted.

SigSour (to Stradivari): yeah but im not a sin and i dont have skeleton keys so i cant open them anyway. either way, you finished the quest for me so i wont be stuck at level 65 for the rest of my life. so thanks.

Stradivari: That's not what people usually say.

SigSour (to Stradivari): what do they usually say?

Stradivari: "hey fagt why did u only send us junk"

SigSour (to Stradivari): LOL!

You have sent a friend request to Stradivari.

Stradivari and you are now friends.


"How's the job search going?" Ella asks.

John shrugs. "It's going."

But not well. There isn't much demand for a surgeon with a tremor in his dominant hand, and while he has the locum work -- treating colds and scrapes and bouts of the flu -- it's not quite enough for him to afford a place in London on his own, not even with his army pension.

And he doesn't want to leave London.

"And everything else? How's living with your sister?"

"Well, she and Clara have been divorced for three months now," John says, which he only knew because Harry had come home and started sobbing on his shoulder about how she was destined to be alone.

It's not that he doesn't love her, because he does. It's just that he can't stand being around her when she's so upset over a divorce, not when he's still waking screaming in the night from memories of his friends bleeding out under his hands.

He'd give anything to have them still alive like Clara, only a phone call away. But it's uncharitable to think that.

"So, stressful then?" Ella asks knowingly.

"It's not too bad. I spend a lot of time in my room."


John does spend a lot of time in his room. He wonders if he should be concerned about that, but he figures he deserves the peace.

SigSour (to Stradivari): you're still level 70? what do you do when you go online instead of levelling?

Stradivari: I haven't done the 70 level break quest.

SigSour (to Stradivari): i need to do that too. how far are you? do you want to do it with me?

Stradivari: I haven't started it.

SigSour (to Stradivari): me neither. are you free now? i have a couple hours before i go to bed.

You have invited Stradivari to join your party.

Stradivari has joined the party.

The quest itself isn't hard like the last one was, mostly just a lot of tedious running back and forth to get the required items, ending in a guarded room where Stradivari pops a handful of speed items (how he affords to use so many consumables, John has no idea).

Stradivari: Cast Phoenix on yourself, pull the mobs, and run down the far left hallway. Duck into the first room you find, and don't revive yourself until I tell you to. They have truesight and we can't kill them alone, but I should be able to get in and out if you distract them.

SigSour (to Stradivari): ok

It works beautifully, except for the part where Strad pulls aggro from the mobs on their way back. After John revives himself, he has to revive Strad as well. Thankfully, the hall itself is clear. They switch roles for John's turn, and respawn at the city with the quest NPC when they both get killed.

SigSour (to Stradivari): i can't believe that worked. lol i was afraid the other patrol would turn around and see me

Stradivari: They did see you. Thanks for coming along.

SigSour (to Stradivari): not until after i got the bloodstone. thanks to you too. it's hard to find people to quest with at this hour. most of the players are american. how about you? are you a brit or just a night owl?

Stradivari: Both.


They quest together for a couple hours after that, until John accidentally lets slip that he's a doctor and suddenly finds himself answering bizarre medical questions like, "What are the decay rates of cartilage once buried underground?" and "How long does it take a 150 pound man to suffocate in a 5x5x5 cubic room?"

When John asks why Strad wants to know these things, Strad explains about being a private detective and working for the police.

Stradivari: Not working, consulting. I only take the cases that interest me.


John doesn't sign in every day but when he does, half the time Strad is there too -- sometimes as a different class, sometimes level-capped and in a guild ("Sometimes I assist on raids, for the large share of the profits. It passes the time," he'd explained when John asked), and always willing to join John when he finishes.

Strad is a better Assassin than most players (than virtually all players, if John had to be honest about it), and John's not a bad Paladin either. Strad knows all the interesting spots where a party of two can still manage to kill mobs and get a decent rate of XP.

When Strad's around the game's a lot more fun than John remembers. He finds himself playing well into the night.


Gunshots and mortar fire and dust all over him, under his fingernails and in the grooves of his gun. Screams and shouts and the sick, wet, gurgling noise of someone trying to breathe through a lung shot.

"You're going to be okay! You're going to be fine!" John shouts, hands wrist-deep in some poor kid's stomach, fingers splayed to hold his intestines in as they writhe, trying to crawl out of his abdomon.

Hands grab him, trying to pull him away, yanking at his wrists even though he's the only one keeping the boy alive, and --

John lashes out, grabbing them and jerking hard, pulling his assailant down with him, pinning them to the ground, blinded by the sudden darkness.

"John! John!" And that's Harry, Harry's familiar voice, high and frightened and distressed, because it's Harry pinned to the bed, not an attacker pressed to the dirt. "John, get off me."

John lets go. He blinks and takes several shaky breaths through his mouth. His heart's racing. He runs his hands over his face and they come back cold and clammy with sweat. "Sorry," he says shakily. He turns on the lamp on his nightstand. He has to squint and blink quickly against the sudden brightness. "Did I hurt you?"

Harry, at least, calms quickly. She sits up and rubs the back of her head. She's in her nightgown. "Only a little. I'll have a bump for a couple days, but I'm fine."

"You shouldn't have come in here," John says. "I told you never to wake me when I'm sleeping. It's not safe. I could have hurt you." He reaches out. "Let me see."

There's a lump on her head from the fall, and one of her wrists is already starting to bruise. The sight of it makes John feel sick. Some big brother he is.

"Johnny, you were screaming. You were screaming like you were going to die."

Not me. Just everyone else, John thinks. "It's just a nightmare. I'm sorry I woke you."

She gives him a hug. "It's okay. I'm just glad you came home safe."


SigSour (to Stradivari): still up?

Stradivari: I have an experiment that needs to be monitored and nothing else to do while I watch it. You went to bed several hours ago. Couldn't sleep?

SigSour (to Stradivari): nightmare. don't want to go back to bed. my sister woke me up and i nearly put her through the wall. :s

Stradivari: She should know better than to try and wake an ex-soldier, especially one with PTSD.

John's blood runs cold. He'd never mentioned being in the army, and he'd definitely not said anything about the PTSD.

SigSour (to Stradivari): How do you know that?

Stradivari: Did you know your punctuation gets better when you're trying to be taken seriously?

SigSour (to Stradivari): No, seriously. That's really creepy. How do you know that? Do you know me? Did you look me up?

Stradivari: You told me. Not in so many words, but you told me nonetheless.

SigSour (to Stradivari): What, you deducted it like you do for work?

Stradivari: Deduced. Deduct is a synonym for subtract. But yes.

And then Stradivari launches into a long, long explanation -- about John being a surgeon but no longer ("Busted hand? You'd have elaborated if it had been and injury and not a tremor caused by emotional trauma"), about his locum work ("You won't take charity from your younger sister, but you don't work often enough to pay half the rent and bills with only your pension, so you have another source"), about his military experience ("You follow orders well, being invalided from the army would explain the physical therapy you mentioned for your shoulder and the pension as your secondary income, as well as the cause for the tremor in your hand. Also, you are aware that you named yourself after your service pistol?"), and his diagnosis ("Violent awakenings, a therapist (you didn't mention it but who else would require you to keep a blog about yourself, considering how much you hate updating it?), and you've never once shown an interest in doing any of the optional military-style quests").

He ends with,

Stradivari: It's just what I do. My mind's always thinking, always analyzing. I'm not stalking you or trying to threaten you. I don't mean to know, I just do.

John feels bowled-over and more than a little impressed.

SigSour (to Stradivari): i didn't think you were. wow. i didn't know you could do that through a computer screen. that's pretty amazing. i don't know anything about you in comparison, just that you work with the police and live in london, like me.

Stradivari: I didn't know you lived in London.

SigSour (to Stradivari): you know i have a therapist but not that i live in london?

Stradivari: Well, I know now. I suspected but wasn't sure. You never mentioned any landmarks.

John's willing to bet a tenner that Stradivari's pouting right now. The thought makes something in his chest loosen.

SigSour (to Stradivari): lol well if you already know all that you might as well stop calling me sigsour. my name's john. nice to meet you. :D

Stradivari: Sherlock.

Stradivari: I mean, that's my name. Sherlock.


"I think I met someone," John says at his next therapist's appointment. "A friend."

"Really?" Ella asks. She sounds pleased, and also surprised. "What's his name?"

John nods. "Really. His name's Sherlock. He -- he plays the same game as me, the online one. We party together."

She raises an eyebrow at him. "Party?"

John flushes. "Uh," he says. "It's where you join the same group and kill things together? And do quests, of course. He hasn't really done any of them, so we've been going through and clearing them together, and sometimes we level, or duo dungeons." Ella's looking at him blankly, so he boils it down to, "We play the game together when we're both online."

"And you feel you've made a personal connection with him?"

Well, when she puts it like that, he just feels stupid. But he's said too much to take it back now, so he shrugs. "I, yeah, I suppose. We spend a few hours together every couple of days. He's a detective. He works with Scotland Yard."

"Oh," she says, in an entirely different tone of voice, one that has John's hackles rising. "He lives in London. And you met him in this game?"

"Yeah. He helped me with a quest I got stuck on. He's --" a brilliant SIN and soloed the level 65 level break quest on his own for me "fun. And it's more fun to play with a friend than by myself, at any rate."

"Interesting," she says, and writes something down in her notebook, angled away so he can't read the words.


From: Stradivari
Subject: Need your liquid assets
How much gold do you have easily available to you? Sell all your metal bars if you have any and any consumable reagents used in spellcasting and alchemy (except bloodswort and fairy wings), then send me what you've got.

I'll need it before Tuesday. I'm flying out for a case Tuesday evening, and won't be back until Saturday.


Generally, anything that starts with "send me all your gold" is a really bad idea, John knows. He's not stupid, thanks.

But against his better judgment, he does trust Stradivari, because Strad doesn't come across as the sort of player who'd care enough to steal gold from someone. He's too... straightforward for that. He doesn't seem like the sort of person who'd lie to John's face. Or online avatar, as the case may be.

To: Stradivari
Subject: re: Need your liquid assets
i don't have that much gold, really. i'm still trying to buy my level 75 armor, but here's what i've got right now.


John doesn't bother logging in for the rest of the week -- Strad won't be there, so he'd have no one to play with aside from strangers, but those are too hit-and-miss for his patience, when he knows he can wait a few days and actually get somewhere in the game. Also, he really doesn't enjoy being forced to speak with semi-literate fifteen-year-olds.

Instead, he taps out a blog post (titled "All the Things I Can't Do Because of My Leg or Hand") and deletes it without posting. Then he does it again ("What My Nightmares Are About"), and again ("My Therapist Thinks I'm Lonely but I'm Not, and Here's Why"), and again ("I Think I Miss the War. Online Games Aren't the Same").

In the end, he settles for something short and stilted, about how it's been to live with Harry (all right, but strained) and how his locum work's been going (also all right even if he misses surgery, misses doing more than just treating the ill and prescribing medication).

There's a content patch for the game on Friday and John logs in to check it out on Saturday evening, after reading about it in the newsletter sent to his email. It says basically "more endgame content and alchemy reagent rebalancing".

John hasn't yet reached the current max level -- 85 for now, unless the makers put out another expansion -- and he hasn't trained his alchemy skill, so he's not expecting much, really.

He turns out to be very wrong.

His character materializes at the auction house, where he'd logged out, and is greeted by pandemonium. The chat scrolls up nearly too quickly for him to read.

[SSA]NotACleric: WTS Bloodswort 7k/each, 6k/each for 10+!


RougeLikeMe: [BUYING] fairy wings in bulk, msg me!

TradeMule1: who the fuck is leclair fucking faggot market manipulator DONT BUY ANY BLOODSWORT THE PRICE WILL GO DOWN SOMEONES MANIPULATING THE PRICE RIGHT NOW.

[PLG]DarthSinister: good going SE, way to screw over all the casters and alchemists. i'm never going to play CLR again.

AlchemyBox: WTB Bloodswort 5k/per, WTS fairy wings 3k/per, WTS Potions of Mana Leech 10k/per

[WtG]ShootyShooter: guys they'll have to patch it everyone just calm down!

...Right. Well, that's not good. John checks the auction house, but the results are about the same -- bloodswort selling for almost 8k gold per piece and buy orders set up for about half that much.

Bloodswort's the base ingredient used to construct high-level healing reagents. John only has a few in his bank. It's not even enough to last him a week of running dungeons. And, if he remembers correctly, it's also used in a good portion of the potions he uses for buffing himself, which means the prices of those are going to skyrocket as well, at least until things settle down.

Stradivari's already online. John gets the private message while he's still browsing the updated item prices, trying to assess the damage.

Stradivari: How long are you going to be online? Do you want to try one of the new dungeons? I have a guild that will do our 75 and 80 level break quests with us if we help them beat it. It's level-capped at 60.

SigSour (to Stradivari): sure. are we going to be needing a lot of potions? the prices are fucked right now, and i don't have any gold so i only have a couple sets.

[GRR]Stradivari: You already used the 200k I sent you? I have some spare potions in my bank. Let me know when you run out and I'll mail them to you.

SigSour (to Stradivari): wtf you sent me 200k?

Gregarious has invited you to join the guild Dogs of London [GRR].

Congratulations, you are now a member of Dogs of London [GRR]!

John checks his mailbox, and, yes -- 200k from Stradivari, plus two full stacks of bloodswort, each holding 99 of the item. Well. There goes that worry out the window. Christ, that's more in items than he has on the rest of his account combined.

Gregarious: Hey guys, Sherlock's tank is here. Everyone else geared up for a trial run of Beliath's Lair?

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): holy shit is this what the gold i sent you was for? market manipulation before the patch?

Illyiana: Ready.

NecroMonger: I'm in!

[GRR]Stradivari: Close, but wrong. Market manipulation would have alerted the finance guilds about what I was doing. I did something cleverer.

Elona: Sherlock's bringing his own tanks now? What next, his own healer too?

Illyiana: Well, SigSour IS a PLD.

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): what'd you do?

[GRR]Stradivari: Chinese gold farmers. 500g per piece. It was more than the minimum market price at the time, but well worth it. I've used them for months to do my farming for me.

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): have i told you you're brilliant lately? because you are


They split into two groups and John enables voice chat, setting it up to only relay speech from his group. He, Stradivari, and NecroMonger (a 60 NMC) take the underground levels of the dungeon, while the other seven members take the upper floors.

"This doesn't look too bad," he says to the team when the level loads. "We're spawned in a safe spot and if the mobs are about our level, we should be able to rip through them pretty easily."

"Right," a masculine voice says. "Sherlock, Sherlock's tank, and Molly are taking the bottom floors, which means we have seven up top instead of the five they're expecting. The mission NPCs say we have to kill each boss within five minutes of each other, which will spawn the main boss. Sherlock, let us know when you reach the altar. We'll be waiting at ours to start the battle."

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): do you all know each other in real life?

[GRR]Stradivari: Only some of them. They're colleagues of mine. Gregarious, Elona, and Illyiana work at Scotland Yard. NecroMonger works at Bart's.

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): oh, i went to school at bart's. before i went into the army. haven't been there in years. i wonder if it's changed.

They get through the first rooms without incident. John tanks and Strad rips through the enemies like a hot knife through butter, occasionally helped by NecroMonger and her pets raised from the corpses they'd left behind.

Sometimes helped, at least -- until one of her pets casts an area of affect spell that hits two other groups of mobs, bringing them into the fight before Strad kills the one on John, and then her pets die because they can't tank for shit, and the mobs target her because John hadn't had the time to cast on them and NecroMonger will only take two hits to die so John drops his defensive stance for a provoke stance which is great except for the fact that now he's dying and he's also the primary healer.

"Molly, you idiot!" a low baritone snaps. "Stop raising Bone Shamans! You're pulling all the mobs!" Strad starts using consumables -- smoke bombs and life powder -- to mitigate the damage. John activates one of the Potions of Stoneskin he'd been saving for the boss.

"Sorry!" a distressed feminine voice calls out, over the clacking of keys. "They're my strongest summons!"

"Well then use your second-strongest. It doesn't matter how strong they are if they get us wiped," the baritone complains. It's Strad, his icon on the party tab highlighting as he speaks.

In the end, Strad is the only one alive, stealthed in a cleared room. John is stuck waiting for the remaining mobs to wander back to their original spawn points so he can activate his Phoenix and revive himself and NecroMonger.

"I'll change my macros as soon as I revive, okay?" NecroMonger says.

"No, just stop casting and sit still. We don't need you anyway," Strad answers, and John steps in.

"Strad, stop being an arse. It's fine, Necro," John says, and starts to raise NecroMonger. "This is just a trial run and it's only a ten percent debuff for dying. We should still be able to get to the end and see the boss."

"Oh," NecroMonger says awkwardly. "Um, thanks. But you can call me Molly, you know. Since it's my name and all."

"Molly, then. I'm John. It's nice to meet you." Now that they're all alive, John starts to reactivate his buffs -- first the spells, then the potions, then the regen. They're not cheap, and he can't help but wince even though he knows he has spares in his inventory for just this reason.

She giggles. "It's nice to meet you too."

Molly switches to Bone Archers and the rest of their half of the dungeon passes without incident. It's meant for regular players, not players used to soloing (duoing) full-party quests with a full complement of potions.

They reach their altar before the other team arrives, so Strad pops a speed potion to backtrack and loot the hidden treasure chests they'd found on their way down.

Gregarious: We're almost there. You guys should start now.

"Strad," John says, looking at the arrow that points to Strad's location, currently off the circle of the minimap. "How far are you? We need to spawn the boss now."

"I'll be back in less than a minute. Spawn it now and start debuffing it."

"All right. Molly, are you ready?" At her affirmative, he activates the altar. It begins to glow, and the demon guard's voice starts speaking.

[GRR]Stradivari: You call her by her first name, but not me. Why?

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): you never said i could. did you want me to?

[GRR]Stradivari: Of course.

"Sherlock," John says, as the bright dot appears on the minimap and rushes closer, just slow enough to miss the area-of-effect choking gas that hits he and Molly and Molly's pets.

"Ready," Sherlock replies, and starts casting his buffs on John -- dodging and damage reduction and shared damage.

They survive the boss unscathed, managing to kill it only a minute after the other team kills the one on the uppermost level, which is pretty good considering it's only the three of them.

A deus ex machina heals them all to full once their boss dies, only for it and its partner corpse to merge together and pull them into yet another zone, where they meet up with the rest of the group.

Gregarious: Ready? SigSour is primary tank and I'll be secondary. The boss has got an area of effect poison, so casters and shooters stay back.

SigSour: Ready

Stradivari: Use an interrupt when he starts to fly into the air. The skill isn't dodgeable if it successfully casts.

The others check in as well -- either in chat or over voice, which is just as well, because the boss spawns in a flash of black lightning. An "ominous" laugh sounds through John's speakers.

"That was terrible," John comments.

"Computer-synthesized voices generally are," Sherlock answers, and the battle starts.

Thirty minutes later, John, Sherlock, and Illyiana are the only ones left standing. John is running dangerously low on mana and cowering in a corner to recover it. He and Sherlock are the only ones with consumables left (and, probably, the only ones who'd brought more than a couple).

They've been kiting the boss for the last ten minutes, ever since a unlucky silence on the cleric and an even less lucky AoE explosion had wiped the rest of their party. Sherlock had yelled over the microphone at that, "Why doesn't anyone else have magic resistance? Do you even know how to fight bosses?"

It's another twenty minutes, marking nearly an hour on the boss alone and two total spent in the dungeon, before the last sliver of the Shadow Lord Beliath's health disappears.

Shadow Lord Beliath has been defeated!
Dogs of London receives 1000 guild points!
Dogs of London receives Beliath's skull.
Shadow Lord Beliath drops a cracked shadow crystal.
Shadow Lord Beliath drops a dragonbone armlet.
Shadow Lord Beliath drops a Lord Beliath's Cloak.
Shadow Lord Beliath drops a handful of smoking gems.

A veritable cheer comes through John's speakers, people talking over each other in the congratulations -- not only for Sherlock and Illyiana (whose real name is apparently Sally), but for John as well. The cloak is for Necromancers and goes straight to Molly, while the other items go to Gregarious, who promises to sell them and split the loot.

Gregarious sends him a PM when they get warped back to the guild hall.

[GRR]Gregarious: It was great having you come with us for the run. Sherlock's usually a lot more testy. Are you interested in a permanent guild? You're more than welcome to stay. We can always use more Londoners.

[GRR]SigSour (to Gregarious): oh, well, sure. but i've never been in a guild before. i hope that's not a problem. i usually only play with Sherlock.

John's fingers stumble over the last word, typing out "Stra" before he deletes it and replaces it with "Sherlock". His stomach growls. When he looks at his watch, he's surprised to see it's past 9 in the evening.

[GRR]Gregarious: That's fine. We're all casual players.

[GRR]SigSour (to Gregarious): thanks, then. anyway, i've got to go. i should eat dinner. my sister's probably wondering why i've been in my room all night.


[GRR]Gregarious: Do you want to try some guild vs. guild combat? Sherlock says he won't go in without his tank.

[GRR]Stradivari: Where have you been? I've been waiting for you. You usually sign on earlier than this. Everything all right?

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): sorry i was looking at flats. i need to move out of my sister's place. she's driving me mad. you didn't tell me were doing something today.

[GRR]SigSour (to Gregarious): sure, give me a few minutes to change to pvp gear. i'll be ready in five.

[GRR]Stradivari: I didn't know until this afternoon. Give me your number; I'll text you next time.

Well. Sherlock already has his blog address and knows who he is and where he works and where he lives (roughly). And John has Sherlock's number, even though he'd never brought it up or called it, because it turns out there aren't very many Google results for "Sherlock consulting detective London", and he'd put the number on the internet.

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): i'm surprised you don't have it already. i'll mail it to you. when you get it, send me a text and i'll add you to my contacts

He gets the text message several minutes later. It's empty save for the letters "SH".

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): i'm sorry, did you seriously just sign an empty text to me?

[GRR]Stradivari: I always sign my texts. Also, Lestrade told me it'd be inappropriate to deduce your mobile number without asking.

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): lol it's okay. i'm used to it from you.

Gregarious: Okay, John's here. Everyone else ready to go?

SigSour: Yup.

Stradivari: Finally.

NecroMonger: Ready!

Archarian: I'm in.

They win, of course.


"John, you've been playing that game an awful lot," Harry comments when John gets home and goes to his room to log straight into the game. They're doing their next level break quest this week, after a couple weeks of him and Sherlock powerlevelling their characters together. "What do you even do in it?"

"I don't play it that much, really," John defends himself as he shoots a greeting into guild chat and sends a whisper to Sherlock. "Just when my friends are on."

And they really aren't on that often -- a couple times a week at most, and sometimes part of the weekend. Hell, half the time he doesn't even play anymore, just idles his character at home and talks to Sherlock. It's easier, now that he's in a proper guild and it's not as hard to find extra members to bolster their party.

Extra competent members, at least, because Sherlock would viciously drive out anyone who couldn't at least partially hold their weight.

"What friends? From the army?" She looks over his shoulder. "You don't look like you're doing anything."

"I'm not," John says, looking at his equipment. Most of it's good but his boots are getting a little underpowered compared to what's available at this level. "I'm waiting to see if anyone wants to run a dungeon or something."

[GRR]Stradivari: Do you want to do the full moon event? It's boring but the items won't be available any other time. Sally wants to but she's a shit tank.

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): she's a RNG. i'd expect her to be a shit tank, or else she's got her gear all wrong. i can come in a few minutes. send the party invite and i'll meet you there in five.

Illyiana: Full moon event forming. Right now it's me, Sherlock, and John as tank. Anyone else who wants in, send me a PM.

"Who are they? Do you know them?" Harry leans over his shoulder and touches her fingertip to their names on the screen. "Why's this text purple?"

"They're private messages," John says. He empties out his inventory, refilling it with potions and other consumables from his storage. "Letting me know we're going to do the event."

"From who?"

John shrugs. "You know, just people from my guild. It's sort of like a club in the game. We play together."

"Have you ever met them? How do you know they are who you say they are? What if they're serial killers?"

"I don't think they're serial killers. The guild leader's a police officer. He works at the Met. And Sherlock -- that's Stradivari, he likes to play the violin, is a consulting detective. He consults for the police sometimes. That's how they know each other."

So they're not really strangers.

Harry laughs at him. She ruffles his hair in a way that makes his hackles rise, then pats his shoulder. "Sure thing, John," she says, and leaves.


"Ugh, sisters," John complains when Harry goes out. She has a date; she'd poked her head into his room to tell him not to wait up.

"Brothers are worse," Sherlock comments darkly as they gather in the holding zone. "Mine likes to show up unannounced in my flat."

"He shows up at Scotland Yard sometimes too, whenever you get yourself arrested, and pulls strings until you're let go," Sally points out. "You should be more grateful."

"Yes, of course," Sherlock says, sarcasm thick enough that John imagines him rolling his eyes theatrically. "Because I really want his fat fingers meddling in my affairs. Everyone ready? I'm going to touch the moonstone."



The event quest isn't too special -- just clearing several areas of packs of wolves before they turn into werewolves, which are harder to kill and carry a curse with their bite. A phone rings halfway through. It's not John's.

Illyiana stops shooting the pack of wolves attacking John and runs towards a safe spot.

"That was Lestrade," Sally says after another minute or two. Her character moves back into range of combat. "They found medication in the boyfriend's medicine cabinet, prescription ones made out to the victim. They were prescribed for her after her surgery." She names the brand.

"Really?" Sherlock asks. He sounds mildly surprised. "Check everything you found. It's possible the boyfriend swapped out one or several of the pills with a poison. If we can finish this group and the next pack within the next three minutes, there's a chance we'll spawn the werewolf leader, by the way. Use more of your skills, Sally. John knows how to manage hate. You're not going to pull them."

"I've already got my skills ready. Stop telling me what to do," Sally says. John can see the faint light around her character as her skills charge up.

"I"ll pull the next pack now then. I'm tanking these ones all right, so it should be fine." But there's something niggling at the back of his mind. "Sorry, this might be off-topic but," John begins. "It's just -- didn't you say the victim was allergic to penicillin earlier?"

"Why, is that relevant?"

"The medication you just mentioned has penicillin in it. It shouldn't have been prescribed to her."

In the following silence, Sherlock misses recasting his dodge and manages to die before John heals him. He doesn't seem to notice.

Sally is the one who finishes off the rest of the mobs attacking John's ingame avatar, then stops. "John? Are you sure?"

John opens his mouth to say of course he's sure, he didn't get a medical degree without knowing that sort of thing, but Sherlock interrupts him.

"Then it must have been the doctor. I've got to go. I'll talk to you later tonight, or possibly tomorrow." And with that, Sherlock promptly logs out, leaving just John and Sally standing together.

Until Sally sighs and says, "He's a git but he's usually right about these things. I think I'd better head back into work and let people know. God knows he won't tell anyone about it until it's all over. I'll talk to you later John, yeah?"

"Yeah," John answers automatically as Sally signs out too. "See you."

It leaves his character alone in the middle of the zone, even timer counting down in the corner of his screen. He sighs, then logs as well. Maybe he'll look at some more job openings.


Sherlock sends him a text in the middle of the night, which John reads the next morning -- The doctor was the murderer. Jilted lover. Thank you for your assistance. SH

No problem. Glad I could help, John replies.


I need a doctor to look at a body for me. An expect opinion would be helpful. Interested? SH

I'm sorry, John answers, already uncertainly wondering if he's going to regret having given Sherlock his phone number. Most of the messages Sherlock sends him are idle thoughts -- just comments, ones that John can appreciate, but sometimes they're odd. John is mostly sure Sherlock's not a serial killer. "Mostly". But what are you doing with a dead body?

Investigating it, obviously. Murder victim. At Bart's, in the morgue. Just ask for me. Coming? SH

The last time John had seen a body had been during the firefight that had taken out his shoulder, when hostiles had attacked the base and taken out half a dozen men, nearly getting John with them. It had also been the last time he'd done something that made him feel alive, something that was more than getting up and looking for (or going to) work and going home, only to cycle through the very same process the next day.

He considers. The only other thing he planned tonight is to sign into the game and kill some time, but if Sherlock's going to be at Bart's, then there's no point. And Harry won't have another date so soon, which means she'll be there to look at him askance, alternating between talking to him about her love life and politely hinting that maybe he ought to get his own place.

He agrees with the latter, it's just not easy when he wants to stay in London and hasn't yet gotten a full-time job.

Sure, he texts back. Might as well.


John remembers where the morgue was from his time at Bart's, so he's able to get in and navigate to the relevant room with minimal problems. The one time he does get turned around, simply flagging someone down and mentioning "I'm looking for Sherlock Holmes...?" gets him rolled eyes and a room number he recognizes.

When he opens the door, two people turn to look at him -- a pretty, petite woman with her hair pulled back and a tall, thin man with vaguely alien features.

"Hi," John says. He leans his weight on the cane and waves with his free hand. "I'm looking for Sherlock Holmes?"

The thin man breaks into a warm grin. "You must be John," and his voice is the familiar baritone that John has gotten used to hearing. He moves away from the table (on which there is, in fact, a body) and takes John's hand in his own, giving it a firm shake. His hands are warm. "Sherlock Holmes."

John smiles back. "John Watson. It's good to finally meet you in person."


"Oh!" The woman makes a noise somewhere between a squeak and a yelp. "Oh, I know you! You're SigSour."

Which makes her NecroMonger -- except that there's no way John's going to say that out loud, because he's already starting to blush from being addressed as his user name in real life. "And you're Molly, right? The one that works at Bart's?"

Her eyes flicker to Sherlock but her smile doesn't waver. "Yeah, that's right."

He shakes her hand too. "Hi. I'm John."

"She already knows that," Sherlock complains. "You use your first name in voice chat."

John looks at him, surprised. "Wow, you really are as much of a git in real life as you are online," he comments without thinking and immediately feels guilty. But not guilty enough to take it back. Sherlock, in turn, looks startled but not hurt.

Molly smothers her giggle with her hand. "He's always like that," she dismisses. "What are you --" She stops, then glances at Sherlock with a disapproving frown. "Did Sherlock ask you to come look at the body? He's not supposed to do that."

"He's a doctor. It's relevant." Sherlock steps aside and motions towards the body on the slab. "What can you tell me about him?"


It turns out that John can tell him rather a lot.

What he finds out enough to get him invited along when Sherlock runs off to a Thai restaurant, and then abandoned when he goes somewhere else without telling John anything, and then invited again, this time by text, to an abandoned office building where someone stabs him in the side and he retaliates, unintentionally, by snapping their neck.

Yet somehow, it's the best night he's had in months.

"Don't worry," Sherlock reassures him while ambulances and police cars pull up around the building. He tugs at John's jacket in a way that would normally be very annoying. He pokes his fingers through the tear in its side. John flinches away with a yelp; his jacket had taken a lot of the blow, but not enough to prevent the blade from slicing an inch or so into the flesh. "You're injured, which makes him," and here he nods at the corpse still sprawled on the floor, "self defense."

"Yeah," John mutters. He prods at his injury curiously; it's bleeding but should be fine with a few stitches. "Lucky me."


A sergeant is waiting for him when John finishes at the hospital, ending up with four neat stitches and a bandage under his slightly torn shirt. She approaches him when he checks out at the front desk and takes him to the station to give his statement.

When they finish, Sherlock is waiting outside the room for him. He looks sullen and annoyed but perks up when he sees John.

"John!" he says and is interrupted before he can say more by the sergeant -- Sergeant Donovan -- holding up a hand sharply.

"Shut it, Sherlock," she snaps. "I don't want to deal with you right now. You took a civilian into danger with you, without even telling anyone what you were doing or where you were going. Then you got him hurt. Whatever you have to say, I don't want to hear it."

"But he's not a civilian!" Sherlock protests.

"I'm not," John agrees, though without nearly as much indignation, because he can see what she means because military or not, even he'd realized he had no business running around after criminals like a vigilante. "RAMC."

"That's not the point," Donovan says. "Just don't let it happen again."

"But he was helpful," Sherlock says. "And he's my friend."

She raises an eyebrow. "Friend? You have friends, now? I thought the only friend you had was some bloke you met online in a computer game."

Sherlock tilts his head at John. "And that would be him. Sig Sauer, as in the firearms they issue to service members. Besides, don't pretend you don't play just as much as I do." To John, he adds, "Sally Donovan, but you know her better as Illyiana."

John's jaw drops, as does hers. Sally's stance shifts, becoming more open, more friendly, more familiar. "So you're bringing strangers you met on the Internet with you now? Did he even know what you were getting him into?"

Actually, John hadn't. But he wouldn't say that now. "It's fine," he says, then belatedly offers her his hand (again). "I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you. I knew you were a police officer, but I didn't know you'd be on this case. Guess I should have figured it out, since I knew you worked with Sherlock."

She laughs a little when she shakes his hand. She seems less irritated now that she knows he's more than just some random bloke Sherlock pulled off the street to look at bodies and perform a touch of breaking and entering. "Well, not all of us can be as obsessive about knowing things as Sherlock. I'd better let Lestrade know -- Gregarious. He's around here too, probably working on the report."

Sherlock stares at him the moment Sally leaves.

Not one to be cowed, John stares back.

Sherlock really does look very alien, but in an interesting way. Sometimes, most of the time, he just looks pasty and a little odd, with facial features that don't quite seem to fit right. Striking but not attractive. But other times, under the right angle when the light is right (just dim enough to throw shadows that make his edges look sharper and his more normal aspects less pronounced), he looks elegantly, inhumanly beautiful.

He'd probably make a professional photographer very happy.

Sherlock blinks first. "What?" he asks defensively, drawing his coat more tightly around himself.

"What?" John mirrors, before realizing he's being an ass. He looks away. "Sorry, you started it. What were you doing?"


"Observing what?'

"I haven't decided yet."

"Um, okay."

He's saved from having to fill in the widening silence in the conversation by the return of Sergeant Donovan, followed by someone else, an older man with graying hair and a resigned air about him, as if to ask, what now?

The man meets Sherlock's eyes and Sherlock scowls. "He's not a civilian. Tell him, Sally," Sherlock demands.

Sally's lips twitch. "Well, sir, do you know how Sherlock doesn't like to go anywhere without his tank? Apparently now he really doesn't like to go anywhere without his tank." To John she says, "DI Gregory Lestrade. He's one of the few DIs that'll let Sherlock on his cases."

Lestrade (Gregarious, and John had never realized Lestrade was his surname and not just some other nickname he'd picked up) sighs. "John from the game, I presume? Are you okay? I heard Sherlock got you stabbed."

"I'm fine. Just a couple stitches. I've had worse." It doesn't even hurt now. Though that might be because of the painkillers, he's not sure. He rocks on his heels. "So, is this what you all do? Solve crimes?"

"Sometimes," Sherlock says. "If I'm between cases and the police have a murder they can't solve, they come to me."

"Sounds dangerous," John comments casually, remembering the impact of a body slamming into his and the rush of fear and adrenaline that had followed.

"It is," Sherlock answers. "Very."

"He sees what other people might miss," Lestrade says. "And sometimes he finds the people we're looking for. Anyway, that's this case closed, then. Good work, Sherlock. You too, John. "


[GRR]Stradivari: How's your side? Police aren't pressing charges on behalf of the man you killed. He turned out to be rather a nasty piece of work.

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): it's okay. it doesn't hurt if i'm careful. knew about the police thing already, ta. gregarious called me and let me know. should i call him lestrade instead?

[GRR]Stradivari: I call him Lestrade, but I met him in real life first. Are you still looking for a flat in London?

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): yeah. i don't think i can stand living with harry any longer. i love her, but it's too much, yeah? i need more space and she clings. but all the flats i looked at are too expensive for me without a fulltime job, even with the pension and part time work. wish me luck.

[GRR]Stradivari: I might be able to do more than that. I'm about to get evicted from my current flat, so I'll be looking for a new one. There's one in Central London I'm interested in, but it's too expensive for just me, so I'll need a roommate. Interested?

John's first thought, staring at the words on the screen in front of him, is isn't this too fast? Except, it's not, really. He'd already been thinking about it in the back of his mind -- not moving in with Sherlock in particular, perhaps, but getting a flat share. It'd be just like living with Harry, only better because at least then he wouldn't have any fraternal obligations getting in the way and a potential flatmate, at least, could be told to piss off if they asked about his love life or job search or gaming habits.

It can't be any worse than living with a complete stranger. Well. Maybe.

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): ... it depends. why are you getting evicted?

[GRR]Stradivari: An experiment I was conducting caught fire and set off the alarm. The landlord was unwilling to listen to reason.

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): you set your flat on fire??? i'm not sure i want to live with you if you're going to be setting the flat on fire

[GRR]Stradivari: Once. It only happened once. Besides, it'd be useful to live with a doctor. I hate going to hospital. Is 7 PM tomorrow all right? I've already scheduled to view it.

[GRR]SigSour (to Stradivari): i didn't say yes yet. i'm still thinking about it. and i was going to try and find a pub group to get my exalted boots tomorrow night.

[GRR]Stradivari: You're not still thinking or you wouldn't have replied so quickly. I'll call in some favors and have a competent group meet you online at 8 for your runs so you can try for the drop without having to deal with 15-year-olds who don't know how to use combat macros. See you at 7.

Stradivari has logged out.

It's not until 5:30 the following evening that John realizes he has no idea where this flat he's supposed to look at with Sherlock actually is.


"You look happy today, John," Ella says, then looks more closely at him and frowns. "What happened to your face?"

John touches his cheek lightly. It doesn't hurt anymore but the bruise had been turning yellow when he'd looked himself in the mirror this morning. "Nothing, really," he says. "Sherlock was helping me move and while we were going up the stairs he caught me in the face with his elbow. It was a few days ago so it's starting to get ugly."

Technically speaking, this was true. Sherlock had bumped John in the face with his elbow when they'd moved in. And they had moved in on the same day, which John had thought would save them both some time and in reality just turned into a chaotic mess.

But the bruise on his face had actually been from afterwards, when Sherlock had gotten a text from his brother warning him that several gang members were looking for him and then somehow managed to convince John that the best defense was a good offense.

He doesn't think she'd react well to hearing about this new increase in his risk-seeking behavior, even if they did manage to overwhelm them in the end and turn them over to the police.

"Sherlock? Is he your new flatmate?"

"Yeah. He's a detective mostly. It's like being a private investigator but sometimes he helps the police on their cases." She's still looking at him. He fidgets.

"Isn't Sherlock the name of your friend?" She flips through the previous pages of her notepad. John reads bits and pieces of her notes as they flash by -- lonely and strained relationship with sister and PTSD. "The one from the online game you play? Why him?"

"I can't afford a flat in London on my own so I'd have to share with someone. It seemed better than living with a stranger and living with Harry was driving me mad, seriously mad. I mean I love her, but I can't stand living with her. Sherlock knew I was looking for a flat, so when he moved, he asked if I wanted to be his flatmate. It let us get something nicer than we'd be able to afford otherwise."

Ella nods. "Mhmm. And how's that working out?"

"Good. It's really -- good."

"How's your leg?"

John looks at his leg; he'd fallen poorly on it during the scuffle with the disgruntled gang members, but his ankle doesn't hurt anymore. He rotates his foot. "It's fine?"

"I was asking about your limp."

"Oh! That." John rubs his hand over his weak leg, massaging the muscle. He'd tucked his cane under the chair automatically (because Sherlock likes to take it away to try and prove a point and John's not above kicking him when he does), but he picks it up now. The rubber grip feels odd in his hand.

"It's psychosomatic. You already knew that, obviously, since you're the one who told me," he adds quickly, "but Sherlock really helped with that." Adrenaline helps with that, keeping his hands steady and his leg mostly pain-free.

"You seem very close to him."

"I am, I suppose. We spend a lot of time together."

"Doing what?"

Chasing criminals. Helping the police. Arguing over acceptable places for Sherlock to put the 'experiments' John suspects are just a test to see what he'll put up with. Duoing ingame together in the middle of the night. Sherlock thinks they can hit 80 on their SIN and PLD combo within the month if they play every day. John thinks he's mad, but in a good way.

"Oh, you know." He shrugs. "The usual. Just flatmate stuff. Video games and telly."

"Sounds relaxing."

Yesterday he'd opened the fridge to find a human head on the shelf.

"Yeah," John says. "Something like that."