"Yes?" Shesmu replied to Allan while looking at the two boys standing outside the door. They were Ryan and Leo. The latter was scratching his head in embarrassment while the former was grinning from ear to ear.
"Since when did you start inviting people to your house?"
"Since now!" Ryan exclaimed as he burst through the main door.
"Ryan, that's rude!" Leo stretched his hand to catch Ryan but to no avail.
"Haha, don't worry about it, Leo. This house will be our studio now, so just think of it as your own." Shesmu put his hand over Leo's shoulder and led him into the house.
The two made their way into the living room, leaving Allan standing next to the door looking at them. "Hmm, interesting. Didn't expect the stoic Mark to make friends so easily."
He then walked towards the three friends with a grin on his face. "I'm guessing that you guys are tired from the flight. When is your stuff coming by the way?"
"The capsules and our clothes will come later today. Ryan kinda forgot about it until we took off and I barely understood what was happening until we were halfway through."
Allan chuckled at Leo's response. "Aren't you supposed to be the older one? Ryan is just running around with you wherever he can."
Just as Leo started awkwardly laughing, Ryan cut in, "Forget about that. Tell me the name of the main system of this house, I want to drink something!"
"That would be Seth," Shesmu responded.
Ryan grinned in response and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Hey Seth! Bring me some bottle of champagne, it's time to party!"
"Understood," The deep voice of Seth responded.
"Ehm, no," Shesmu flatly replied. He focused his attention on Seth and continued, "Seth, Ryan is underaged, make sure his requests conform with federal laws."
Even Leo couldn't help but look in shock at Ryan. "Ryan, what the fuck are you saying? You're fourteen!"
The latter pouted and looked away. "Who cares about that, huh? It's just to party, and I just wanted a sip!"
"Yeah, tell that to the FBI when they use your asshole as a bottle opener for that champagne you so wanted." Shesmu looked at Ryan with disappointed eyes. "Or even worse, they use mine."
Allan couldn't help but let out the chuckle, the dissonance between Shesmu's serious face and what he was saying gave the situation a layer of absurdity that made him weak.
"Goddammit, Mark. Only you can say that with a straight face." He looked at Leo and Ryan and said, "But you're right, we can't just sit idle until your capsules come. You guys want to play some Gompa Stompers?"
"Gompa Stompers, what's up with that dumb name?" Ryan had an unimpressed look on his face, making Allan flinch somehow.
"Hey, I wasn't the one who named it. Plus it's a fun game, just trust me. Just download it in your ravs and you're good to go." He then looked at Shesmu and asked, "You have a room big enough to play?"
"Well, there is the gaming room. We just need to take out the capsule and put a couch instead and we're good."
Shesmu led the way to the room while Ryan hopped next to him, leaving Allan and Leo behind.
"You really have a hard time taking care of Ryan, I don't envy you. Is he your little brother?"
The latter scratched his head and answered awkwardly, "Well, not really. But I do see him as my own brother though."
Leo's eyes lingered on Ryan's back before Allan put his hand over his shoulder and scratched his head.
"That's great, it's great to have someone you can call brother. Now let's go, I have some cool moves to show you. That way we older brothers don't get left behind, right?" Allan winked at Leo before they followed after Ryan and Shesmu.
* * *
"Okay, so me and Allan will just give you a quick rundown of how to play. You both installed it, right?"
"Yeah, just get on with the explanation already," Ryan replied with a full mouth. He was munching on some chips with an aggravated face, still angry at his denied request. Leo on the other hand just nodded and laughed awkwardly.
"Okay then." Shesmu opened the game, and his vision suddenly changed. The world around him turned cybernetic, with blue and white dominating the color palette.
Looking at Allan, he saw the name "Cain" written on top of his head, with a green aura surrounding his body.
Cain's aura shifted to red and a notification appeared in front of Shesmu's face saying: Your challenge has been accepted, Let the duel begin!
A plethora of character choices appeared in front of Shesmu, making him drown in the number of options. He scanned with his eyes the character icons before he whispered, "Choose, Tha'lab."
A white light engulfed Shesmu's whole body. Once it dimmed out, he transformed into a new being. A dark blue cloak covered his body, fluttering with the wind. His piercing dark eyes gained an amber taint. His full, brown hair grew, turned orange, and two fox ears peeked out from its strands.
He stretched the dark gloves on his right hand before taking a fighting pose, ready to strike.
Allan, on the other hand, was clad in a dark robe, holding a staff in hand. At its top was a crescent-shaped crystal that shone with yellow light.
"Okay, so Allan took the lunar mage while I took the fox. He is a long-distance character that wants to play safe and poke from a distance, while I want to go into close quarters and overwhelm him with superior power and speed, understood?" Shesmu looked at Ryan and Leo sitting on the couch and explained. His voice was serious, as it was usually the case when he talked about gaming.
Ryan stopped munching on his chips and looked at Shesmu. "Oh, interesting. How many characters are in this game, and how many classes?"
Shesmu hummed and looked down before responding, "Well, there are like at least 70+ characters. As for the classes, there isn't really a system like that. But if you wanna categorize them, I guess you could have heavy-hitters, long-range pokers, and combo-strikers. The names are pretty self-explanatory."
"Hey Mark," Allan interrupted. "I think that's enough for a verbal explanation. They would get a much better feel of how everything works once they see us fight."
Shesmu focused back on Allan and dropped his loose attitude. "Okay then, at the count of three."
Shesmu took a low stance as he counted down. Silver and blue energy overflowed from Allan as he waited for the fated moment. Their eyes were laser-focused on each other, the world around them melted into the background.
Shesmu pounced like a cheetah, his hands growing claws and fiery orange energy overflowed from them. Allan, on the other hand, stayed stationary. His staff gathered lunar dust carried by a gust of wind. That small breeze soon turned into a storm—and before anyone could notice—a tornado.
The two clashed for half a second before both of their abilities were nullified. The moment Shesmu landed on the ground, the floor below him shone with a bright light. He jumped out of the incoming danger, barely dodging the pillar of red light. He floated high in the air, looked down at the direction of Allan, but instead of him, silver light was the only thing he could see.
A magnificent explosion. Allan chained one spell after the other, pushing Shesmu higher and higher into the air until he crashed on the wall. He fell down to the ground, debris scattered all around him.
"He shat on you, man!" Ryan laughed his heart out before he choked on the mouthful of chips he was munching.
"Dude, chew your food before talking smack." Leo patted Ryan's back. His expression was that of worry mixed with amusement.
Ryan coughed twice before thanking Leo. "But damn dude, I haven't seen a read like that in ages. Holy moly. He played you like a fiddle."
Allan chuckled while Shesmu groaned as he stood up. The latter shook the dust off his cloak and looked at Ryan with a wry smile, "Well, isn't that the in-depth analysis. Wanna try your luck with Allan and see how you fare?"
Ryan's face flushed red causing Leo to burst out laughing, making him even more embarrassed.
"Nah, I'm a little bit tired. Why don't you both fight and I stay with Leo about big brothers' stuff." Allan winked as he walked towards Leo.
"Oh, nice!" Ryan exclaimed. "This will be revenge for last time, you better be prepared!"
Shesmu shrugged at Ryan's declaration. "Are you sure you want to make this your revenge match? At least in Ashes, you had some familiarity with the game. This one, you're just first timing."
"Oh? And are you going to try hard against a fourteen-year-old? I didn't know you were this much of a gentleman, Mister pro player."
"Oh, that I will. Didn't you know that us pro players are like really super tryhard? You would have known if you were a pro too."
Allan chuckled at the two's banter as he sat down next to Leo on the couch.
"Hey, Leo, what types of snacks do you prefer, salted or sweet?"
"Ehm, I guess I like salted more?" He answered after some hesitation.
Allan smiled at his answer before saying, "Hey Seth, can you make us some briwats? Ehm, also..." He stopped and gave Leo an inquiring look. "Do you have an allergy to nuts or chicken?"
"No, not really, why?" Leo asked in confusion.
"Nah, nothing. I was just making sure you could taste the best snacks this world has got," Allan answered with a chuckle. "Seth, just bring two portions of them goodies. One filled with chicken and the other in nuts. We have a guest today so make sure they're good, aye?"
"Understood, Master Allan."
Allan stretched his back on the couch and looked at Leo. "While Seth is making those, tell me, how did you guys meet? Mark just left me in the dark."
Leo's eyes glazed over at Shesmu, he and Ryan were still fighting with vigor, before he looked back at Allan. "Honestly I met him through Ryan. The two were fighting for some reason, and that's how we met."
"Hmm, I see." Allan's gaze drifted towards the ground, not looking at anything in particular. He stayed silent for a few seconds before he asked, "So, what role do you play?"
Leo was confused at the sudden change of subject, but he responded nonetheless, "Ehm, I'm a tank. Why?"
Allan chuckled at Leo's answer. "Ah, I knew it. It's just that all the good tanks I have talked with were really sweet and reserved outside of combat. Seems to be a common trait."
"Ehm, thanks for the compliment, I guess? But I'm not really that good. At least compared to them." Leo looked back at Shesmu and Ryan. Even while playing that random game, they still showed high dexterity and an insatiable drive to win. Or at least that's what Ryan showed, Shesmu was just toying with the latter.
"Don't compare yourself to them." Allan's switch of tone was swift and clear. He gave Leo a serious look before he leaned back on the couch, looking at the ceiling. "The only person you have to compare yourself to is yourself. Have you grown? Did you become better? Those are the only questions you should ask."
Hearing his serious speech, Leo couldn't help but chuckle.
"Hey, why are you laughing!"
Allan's flustered face only made Leo laugh harder. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't laugh. But you're right, the only person I should compare myself to is myself. Thank you."