Francis sits in his overly large “gaming chair” while I sit in a smaller but still extremely comfortable chair next to him.
His “computer setup,” whatever that means, has three screens, one of them a giant rectangle at the top, and two smaller ones below it—one is vertical, and the other is horizontal. I’m not sure whether it is actually impressive or not, but I will admit that it looks extremely interesting to me.
Computers, or computing, perhaps, seem to be a magical service that allows for connectivity in a dynamic and near-instant way. You can meet with someone from “France” or “Taiwan” or “the Maldives,” wherever any of those places are, and then you can send them messages, or even talk to them and hear their voice. It appears to be powered by a series of intricate and complicated spells known as “electric power,” something closely related to lightning abilities but harnessed in a much more delicate way.
On computers, it appears you can use the screens available to you not only to communicate others, but to read books, watch moving paintings, share your own paintings that you instantaneously capture with something known as a “camera,” and most importantly for Francis’s career, you can also play video games, which are moving painting that are also interactive.
Apparently people like to watch other people play video games, which means it is no longer interactive and becomes a normal moving painting experience again. This is called streaming, and has nothing to do with undersized rivers or creeks as I had once assumed. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but then again I am still not integrated into Earth culture as much as I’d like.
Francis has been narrating this entire experience to me so far, which has been very helpful to my understanding. He is about to begin streaming. “Logging into Y-Cast... But first, gonna go on Discord. Gotta make sure my peeps are all good before I do anything else, you know?”
“My homies, the bois, the exclusively male set of friends I know solely through the meme group chats we are in together,” he explains. “I call them peeps because of a funny inside joke. It was last Easter when we were talking about when k-storm69 lost his virginity at Wal-mart thanks to—I just realized that you aren’t going to understand any of this.”
“Don’t worry. I’m letting all of this simply wash over me,” I say. “Someday I will understand and will look back at my time here with fond memories.”
“Good on you.” Francis gives a bright smile. “Um, in real life I don’t really do any of this, but when I stream and go on Discord and stuff, I turn into kind of a bro.”
“Like, you probably had some rival adventurer groups where there were guys who thought they were alpha male jerks who got drunk and were constantly loud and boasting about their successes and stuff, right? That’s a bro.”
“I actually understand that completely,” I say. “Almost half of the adventurers I met, at least the human ones, were excactly this ‘bro’ type you have described. I despised them with every fiber of my being. The world would improve if they were to have never existed, in my opinion.”
“Oh, um. Well, in this case, I’m just doing it on streams because it makes more people watch. So, sorry if I come off a bit of an abrasive asshole, okay?”
“As long as you are not an abrasive asshole to me.”
“I want to promise, but I can’t,” Francis says with a lopsided smile. “I kind of get into it sometimes...”
“Be careful not to offend my sensibilites,” I say. “I still have my [Transmigrated Spirit] card if you do.”
“It was a joke.”
“Also, I realize I probably should draw another card to fill the empty slot in my deck, but I have been debating on whether to draw from my current 27 Destiny Points, thus leaving me with less than the number I need to level up later, or to draw from my Life Points, which will cut down my survival time down by up to a day and a half at its maximum rate. What do you think?”
“Oh, sorry, I was just looking at Discord,” he says. “I just started a sponsorship thing with them, so this server is getting a lot more activity lately. Lots of new peeps sharing the latest memes. You were saying?”
“I was wondering about the method I should use to draw my next Destiny Card, since I have an empty slot, and that is tactically disadvantageous in case of any further danger. Drawing with Destiny Points will prevent me from leveling up, but drawing with Life Points can be a big risk depending on the randomized cost. It is something of a conundrum that I have not yet figured out.”
“Yeah, you... Yeah, do that.”
“You seem distracted again,” I say.
“Sorry! There’s an update with an ex of mine who’s going around causing drama in the happygirl13 server.”
“Please! This is a very serious matter.”
“I, uh, do the second option,” Francis says, clearly trying to cover up the fact he was not listening enough to even know what I was talking about.
“Fine. But if I end up with a high Life Point cost for this, the blood will be on your hands. But not literally, because the damage is to my soul only, not to any physical part of my body.”
I open up the Destiny Deck in my HUD and—
“Francis, I’m trying to do something important!” I exclaim.
“Memes are important too, you know.”
“Show me this ‘meme.’ I wish to know and understand what you believe is such a vital part of life that it is more worthy of your time than letting me draw a Destiny Card in peace.”
“Uh, fine, but I don’t think you’ll...”
He shows me an image, a painting of some sort that depicts a masked man with no shirt saying, “For you,” and then below it, a plain-looking man, with three identical copies behind him, saying, “Four mes.” Then below that the shirtless masked man is depicted in a disturbing manner with a blurry visual, saying, “Ouch, your joke burned me! I’m really hurt! Owie!”
“So, the joke is a play on words, and then humiliation caused by it,” I say. “I see, but I do not understand its source of humor.”
“It’s funny because it’s not funny at all,” Francis says.
“Your words were understandable, but their meaning has utterly passed me by.”
“I realize that. Um, sorry for being loud. I’ll be quiet.”
I go back to my Destiny Deck and make a Life Points sacrifice to draw a new card.
—and the new card in my deck emerges.
Kaio Blast: Rank 3. Doubles combat stats for 2 minutes. Cost: 500 LP.
That is a quite useful card! The Life Points cost is staggeringly high for its use, but it is one of the best emergency cards destiny can draw for an [Adventurer.] I bless The Goddess for smiling down on me.
“What’d you get?” Francis asks, still staring at the bright white screen showing a “discord,” which I take is the name to something rather than an actual discordant element in his life.
“[Kaio Blast,]” I say. “It is an incredibly powerful attack skill because it doubles all combat stats, but because of its cost I will only use it in dire circumstances.”
“That’s nice.” He isn’t paying much attention anymore. “Welp, guess I’ll start streaming now,” he says.
“I wish to see what video game you will partake in.”
“Well, the main game I’m playing now is Royals of Foreign Lands, this awesome strategy-MOBA-4X-royale multiplayer game that’s been crazy popular these days.”
“I’ll explain it later,” he says. “For now, it’s time to stream!” He hits a button next to his computer keyboard and seemingly shifts his entire being.
“Sup, my dudes!!!!!!!” he screams. “Welcome to the Fran Zone, and it’s time for another stream of RoyFor! Yeah, I see you on the chat, Bac-Nation. C’mon and give daddy a kiss!”
There is banging from the floor below us.
But this time, Francis refuses to keep it down.
“So, let’s get in the Mighty Airship and drop down on the battlefield,” Francis says. “My dudes, who we playing today?”
He examines the chat which is displayed in this lefthand vertically oriented screen. “Frackel? Nah, fam, he lame.”
What happened to Francis’s speech patterns? I am still getting used to the way others talk in this new Earth, but Francis has seemingly shifted into another person...
“Forever Soldier’s real tight, but I’m thinking more... Yeah boi, let’s go Shifter. Time for Shifter! Boarding the Mighty Airship now. Oh, thanks for the hearts, Commodore_Perry1995. Means a lot. Heartsies back.” He makes the symbol of a heart with his fingers and shows it to the camera hoisted at the top of his screen.
“This is a bit odd,” I say.
“Oh yeah, my boi right here, Eryk Solbourne, yeah he’s here with me today. Nah he’s not a gamer. He’s just here to—yeah, looks just like Blaze Blitzer, doesn’t he? My homeboi’s not a gamer, trust me. C’mon, Eryk, let’s say hi to the chat.”
“Hello, chat.” I wave. “Greetings. My name is Eryk Solbourne, and though I cannot see you, I wish to give my most powerfully positive feelings towards you. Thank you for giving your support to my friend Francis Bacall.”
“Bro, chill the hell out, hahahahahaha,” Francis says.
“Okay, time to drop on the battlefield. Let’s gear up and harvest some minions. Break into shift mode and...”
From then on, I kind of zone out for a while. I suddenly am stricken with the distinct sense that Earth is even more different than I could have possibly imagined. I may not be a royal, but this video game’s title is very accurate in regards to my life: I truly am in a foreign land.