-Lune, Emily and Morpheus-
Predictably, by the time Lune had gotten there, Emily had done what most little girls her age would've done in a situation like this: She shut herself into her room and started crying. As she stood in front of Emily's quarters, Lune could hear this --- and her heart sank at Emily's sobbing. It broke her heart to see Emily crying like this but, at the same time, Lune envied Emily; How many chances did Lune have in her childhood to actually be a little girl? "Emily, what's wrong?"
"Go away!" Was Emily's response. Lune sighed.
"Open." Emily had not bothered locking her door; With that command, the door hissed and slid open, revealing Emily's room to Lune. As were most of the other quarters in Aidoneus, Emily's room was rather spartan in and out of itself, very few decorations; However, Emily had managed to procure a pink silk blanket and bedsheets for herself back in Hong Kong, and whatever few possessions Emily had were scattered along the table to the far end of the room.
Emily was in terrible shape. Curled up onto her bed with her knees to her chest, Emily was sobbing into one of her pillows, her back turned to Lune; As Lune walked forward and paused in front of Emily's bed, she could see a thin, wooden box hidden underneath the other pillow --- she had seen Emily lug it around a few times while on Aidoneus, and recognized the box as the one that held the set of gold dice Xiu had given her. "Emily?"
"I said go away, Kirie! Just leave me---" Emily started, turning around, and her expression softened slightly as she realized her mistake. Lune winced; Emily's eyes were red from crying, and her cheeks were drenched with tears. "...Oh. It's...it's you, Miss Lune."
"I heard what just happened," Lune sighed, sitting down on the side of the bed, while Emily shuffled back towards her pillows and sat up, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. "Even if he has a point, Morpheus shouldn't have had been that harsh on you, Emily. I'm sorry."
"Why're you sorry for, Miss Lune? It's Morpheus' fault!"
"He's jealous! He's holding me back!" Emily slammed the sheets with her fists once, sneering at Lune with tear-stricken eyes. "I don't get it at all! I don't see what's so bad about Munchkin Techniques, I don't know what's wrong with them! What am I doing wrong, Miss Lune? All I wanted was to protect everyone close to me no matter what it took! Not only am I failing at it, Morpheus yells at me for it, too! I..."
Emily dropped her head onto her knees and began crying again. Lune reached her right hand out, placing it on Emily's back. "Emily...have you thought that maybe Morpheus does have something there...he just doesn't know how to explain them properly?" Lune began softly. "I don't understand what you and Morpheus have going on here, but he confuses even me when he talks properly."
Emily looked up sharply. "Still gives him no right to yell at me like that, Miss Lune!"
"I know, I know. But if I make him promise not to yell at you, will you at least give him a chance and listen to him, Emily?"
At that, unsure of how to answer, Emily just blinked at Lune.
Finally, Emily deflated, and sighed as she nodded a little in consent. Lune smiled. "Alright, Miss Lune, if you say so."
"Got it." Then Lune turned towards the door and, cupping her left hand to her mouth, yelled outside. "Morpheus, you can come in now!"
Almost on cue, the door to Emily's quarters hissed open again, and Morpheus in his familiar stoic posture strode in, pausing in front of Emily and Lune as the door closed behind him. Emily shuddered as her eyes widened, as if trying to fight the urge to rant at him again; Lune's tightening grip on her back, though, allowed Emily to maintain her composure. Morpheus frowned; Lune let go of Emily and looked up at him. "Morpheus, do you need me to go outside?"
"No." Morpheus, to Lune's surprise, answered. "You deserve to know the truth as well, Lady Lune."
Emily blinked at Morpheus as he sat down next to Emily as well.
"Emily, are you still angry at me?"
"Of course I'm still mad at you! Why'd you yell at me for!? What'd I do wrong!?"
"I see." Morpheus frowned. "In that case, I owe you an apology."
"See, Emily, ever since you joined up with the Gundam Team, I had known that you were destined for great things. What you are, what you can become, and the burden that you face are not light at all." Morpheus turned away from Emily momentarily, staring at the wall. "After Lady Lune talked to me, I supposed that I had forgotten that while you were destined for all those things, you were still a little girl. I had been too harsh on you, and I'm sorry."
Unsure of how to take this, Emily mutely nodded, sniffling once.
"I want you to be honest with me, though --- where did you first learn about Munchkin Techniques?"
"W-well..." Emily swallowed and, hesitant at first, forced herself to speak. "Back at Point Alpha, when I really wanted to protect Miss Lune and Masaki, I realized that I had been doing something out-of-place...that I could switch my Cha with my Dex to maximize my reaction and chance to hit. I...I guess I didn't think, Morpheus, I saw it was good and it works so I just went and did it. When I met Captain Livingstone in Hong Kong, though, he explained more about being a Munchkin...
"He said if I developed those I could defy my fate, and defy everyone else from dying, too. That I can force the DM to not fail again."
Morpheus nodded, inwardly noting Emily's words while remaining stoic. Captain Livingstone...I don't remember a Captain by that name, unless she really meant Brigadier General Steve Livingstone of SNRI...it would make sense for Livingstone to lie to Emily about his rank, and if he really is the Munchkin Master... "So in your perspective, Munchkin Techniques are alright as long as they help you protect everyone."
"Now, Emily, I'm going to be honest with you." Then, suddenly, Morpheus raised a right hand to his temple, paused...and removed his sunglasses, revealing deep, thoughtful-looking black-pupiled eyes, and as Morpheus did, the eyes completed a soft, gentle expression as he stared at Emily. The act caught both Emily and Lune by surprise; Emily especially, who never thought Morpheus could be anything more than a one-dimensional caricature like Black Mage. "You may not know it, but most things have a side effect, the unexpected result of every drastic action. Some things don't have a side effect, but very few; some side effects may be good, some bad. It may not even be apparent to you at the start, or it may be very apparent...but to everyone else."
"So..." Emily blinked, rubbing her chin thoughtfully; Her tears were beginning to dry as well, and she looked calmer than before. "What kind of side effects do Munchkinnism have?"
Morpheus smiled at that; Lune was right. Perhaps all Emily needed was what exactly the Jedi have been stuffing Anakin Skywalker's head full of --- a moment to sit down calmly and talk with her. "The side effects of Munchkinnism are extremely nasty to those who know exactly how to utilize them, Emily --- given who you are, this can be very dangerous both to your enemies and your friends in the long run. That was why I reacted so badly to you insisting on using those powers, especially given who you are."
"Who...who I am?"
"You, Emily Stormgunner, are one who sees this world clearly, sees the flow of time like no other can see it." Morpheus continued. "You who see it, and knows how the world works. You see its stats, and using those stats, you can predict and see what the world has in store for everything in it. How many Hit Points a pillar has; How skilled a Fandom trooper is with his gun, his Base Attack Bonus. What vulnerabilities and Damage Reduction Zero's Shinkirou has, whether or not a Beam Magnum works best on his DR and AoE or a Beam Gatling Gun does better in the number of hits you inflict on it. Where that Plasma Trap is located and the DC needed to detect it with Disable Device."
"A..." Emily shrugged, "?"s in her eyes. "A Newtype?"
And at that, Morpheus' smile widened knowingly. "More than that, Emily --- far, far more than that. You, Emily Stormgunner...are a Gamer."
"A Gamer." Lune blinked incredulously.
"It seems like High Fantasy to you now, Lady Lune, but it is true. Please bear with me here." Morpheus nodded to Lune briefly, and turned to Emily as she stretched her legs out underneath her blanket. "You, Emily, are a Gamer --- and a very powerful one at that. There are lots of Newtypes in this Earth Sphere, but very few Gamers...and you are unique, even among them. You see this world clearly and the mechanics and game system behind the campaign. That is why, in the wrong hands, you can be very valuable...and very dangerous."
And then, it clicked together in Emily's head, and as she realized where this Diplomacy Check was going, she lowered her head and began misting her eyes again. "You mean...Munchkins?"
"Exactly, Emily. Now, I'm not accusing your Captain Livingstone of anything yet, so don't cry." Morpheus gently continued; Lune, seeing Emily about to cry again, shook the girl gently in assurance, causing Emily to nod. Morpheus sighed; It was a lie, of course --- Morpheus was almost certain Steve Livingstone was the hidden Munchkin Master within the Strategic Naval Research Institute --- but Emily would simply tune him out if Morpheus accused him outright. "Maybe he just doesn't see what harm the side effects of Munchkinnism can do, like you don't. Maybe he does, but feels the power outweighs the side effects. We don't know. He might not be actively trying to corrupt you. He might not be evil."
Emily nodded mutely again, biting her lip.
"But as you start learning the Munchkin Techniques, so must you learn its side effects. Munchkinnism is a very aggressive, very forceful style of gaming, Emily. It involves fighting everyone --- fighting yourself to get the best stats possible; fighting your enemies in the most brutal, most efficient way possible, even by cheating on your dice rolls; Fighting the other players for the spotlight so you can do things the right way, by your way." Morpheus paused, turning to Lune, who was staring at Emily with a blank, almost absent expression. Emily was understanding, but Lune wasn't getting it at all! "Even fighting the DM himself, fighting other NPCs, to derail the plot and prevent something you don't like from happening. It's a style of gaming that can be overwhelming and powerful, but one where you'll have to do a lot of fighting. Lady Lune, you can go if you wish; me and Emily will be fine from here on."
"No...I'm alright. Go on, Morpheus." Lune whispered, shaking her head quickly. That, too, was a lie, of course.
"So..." Emily began quizzically, grasping her hands together at her waist and twiddling her thumbs. "What are its side effects?"
"The inherent problem that Captain Livingstone did not tell you with Munchkin Techniques, Emily, is that above all else, you will be fighting the DM --- and when a Gamer actually fights the DM, nobody wins. Nobody has fun when the interaction between DM and his Players, between NPCs and PCs, becomes an uphill struggle for plot survival. When a DM starts losing control over his setting, he is obligated to regain control of it in one of two ways --- either by adjusting his world, which can be disasterous and leads to plot holes...or by dealing with the guilty players, which leads to more fighting. Given time, this internal struggle will consume and destroy the Gamer, if he or she is lucky; Or this could lead, in the most extreme case, to the DM overturning the table and quitting on the campaign."
Emily's eyes went O_O at Morpheus and her jaw dropped open. "...Whoa."
"And yes, Emily --- as a Gamer, in this world, your DM is none other than Fate itself. Defying fate never has a winner."
"But...the DM totally deserves it! When the story stinks we can't just sit there---"
"No, not sit there. Never sit there. But have patience, see where things lead first." Morpheus frowned, straightening himself. "The other thing that Captain Livingstone never told you is that Munchkinnism always has an innate assumption: that the DM is always bad, his story always a terrible one. That is not the case. Only one thing is right: You can never win them all, Emily, not even as a Gamer. But just because things seem bleak now doesn't mean they won't be much happier later; It depends on us, and on the people around us. If one lets the DM tell his story, interacts with it, the people around it, rather than try to dominate the spotlight, the DM's story can be a very beautiful one, with a happy ending --- it might not be always happy, but it can be in the end."
Emily sulked as she understood what Morpheus was getting at. "Xiu."
"Her death is indeed unfortunate, Emily. I meant that. But Xiu left behind some wonderful things for us --- those Gold Dice, for you. A happy memory, for Strike and Stellar. A newfound purpose, for Masamune. Those very things, as long as they and you keep them in your hearts, can inspire you, turn into strength. Over time, those memories of Xiu will let Strike and Masamune become stronger than they ever thought possible --- you do not need to fight the DM for it. That --- love, not hatred --- is where true strength comes from, Emily, especially for Gamers."
Morpheus' gentle, explaining words caused Emily's mind to reel. All this time, after Hong Kong, she had been led to believe that the only way to get stronger was to be a Munchkin, to defy fate --- that only she can make herself stronger, help protect everyone. But if Morpheus was right, then did that mean true strength came from the people around her?
"How..." It was Lune's turn to blink, sitting up slightly. "...How do you know all this, Morpheus?"
At that, Morpheus turned to Emily with a fond expression, and a smile never left his face.
"Because, Lady Lune..." Morpheus began, and Emily felt warm at his words. "Me and Emily are not very much different at all. I, Emily Stormgunner, am a Roleplayer."
(To be continued...)
"MISSION 2: DESTROY AN ENEMY AIRCRAFT CARRIER. Alright. Fine. As long as I don't have to f*cking land on it!!!
-Angry Video Game Nerd, NES Top Gun review