|Before Mount Hyjal was accessible in present-day|
Azeroth, Archimonde's remains decorated Nordrassil
No Pomp Nor Circumstance
There was no great fanfare on Ater's last day in the guild. No great celebrations were thrown, no group screenshots taken, no speeches given by the guild leader on Ater's many contributions to Descendants of Draenor. We didn't go around a circle and exchange stories about the fact that Ater was perpetually in a state of getting his bearings in Azeroth, often lost on the other end of a virtual continent as our raid team made their way inside an instance. We'd arrive at Molten Core and he'd be in Silithus, trying to figure out where he had made a wrong turn, then laugh and joke about it as he slowly found his way back. Nobody reminisced about the time Ater finally acquired Thunderfury after running Molten Core for entire an year. No one waxed melancholy about the fact that it was Ater himself who gave Descendants of Draenor our guild motto: "If we don't die, we win." No tributes were paid. No write-ups were written. Nothing was done in honor of Ater and the impact he had on us.
There was no fanfare on his last day, because nobody knew what day it would be.
Even in his ability to be a great leader, providing guidance to anything from playing a warrior, leading a group of misfits, dealing with people-related issues, or designing a new interface for a time-tracking application, Ater remained humble upon introspection. He avoided making a "Leaving the Guild" forum post because he didn't want it made into a big deal. To him, good-byes where too finite and depressing; he looked upon them as next steps in life, new beginnings rather than endings.
At least, this is what I like to believe Ater thought.
I can't be certain, because Ater never spoke of his true feelings toward the guild during his time spent here. Perhaps he saw it as a great experience; a chance to make a lot of new friends and work together to slay internet dragons. Perhaps these feelings soured as time went on, as the roster transmogrified from those Vanilla folks he considered close friends, to handfuls of strangers that no longer saw the game as he did. In his Vanilla days, Ater lived and breathed World of Warcraft, raiding, and our guild -- it nourished him and coursed through his veins. When not planning out Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, and the like, he was pushing groups of players through Zul'Gurub, practicing, refining, challenging himself and his team. As The Burning Cruade was tapering off, his hours outside of the 25-Man progression raid were similarly spent in Zul'Aman, seeking to lay claim to the Amani War Bear. And each week he came-up snake eyes. His current group wasn't like the one he stampeded through Zul'Gurub with. It lacked the finesse, the polish...
...the means to give a damn about doing it well.
|Descendants of Draenor defeats Teron Gorefiend,|
It had been several weeks since the death of Archimonde in our moment of shocking triumph. Having wrapped up Hyjal Summit, we returned to Black Temple to excise more bosses from the instance. Next on the to-do list was Teron Gorefiend, a zero margin-of-error linchpin like Archimonde and Magtheridon. I took some solace in the knowledge of our startling success with Archimonde's defeat, but working on Teron quickly began to eat away at the team consciousness. In the same manner as the those bosses who came before him, Teron Gorefiend could only be killed if each and every player took responsibility for their effort and contribution. Lacking any control over which players were chosen by Gorefiend as a sacrificial lamb, however, allowed patterns to once again emerge revealing who had done their homework and who had lied. Shadowy Constructs made short work of the raid if the sacrificial player was a scrub. All we asked was that players practiced until they got it right. For some, all the practice in the world was not enough.
On the other side of the screen, Ater had fully settled in to his new locale in the heart of Chicago, Illinois. As with all new jobs, the first few weeks take up the most of your attention: coordinating, getting to know new teammates, new responsibilities. And Ater, being the "people person" that he was, put every waking minute of time and energy into his newest challenges in the windy city. That meant less time in-game, just as it had been when he came to work alongside me. The only difference was that, this time around, I was no longer present during the day to pester him. To hound him...
To remind him that he was needed.
We had discussed an exit strategy informally. Months earlier, staring off his apartment balcony, I'd broached the topic; not much had come of it. There was going to be a final day for Ater and I needed to start planning for it. Yet, I lingered in denial. I looked at the tanks I had, amid a drought of new applicants, and none of them inspired me to throw a party. But, rather than take control of the situation and recruit with greater aggression and focus, I languished. I let it slide. I failed Ater, but he was too nice to say anything that might hurt my feelings.
Soon, Hanzo. You're running out of time.
|Descendants of Draenor defeats the Reliquary of Souls,|
Reliquary of Souls
Three weeks of insufferable work on Teron Gorefiend led to an eventual kill. Ater was all but completely silent in raids by this point, only to make calls during each attempt as needed -- that bit of communication that was essential to every efficient team. With the death knight's wheel spinning once again, we had a decision to make on our next boss. Should we approach Gurtogg Bloodboil and his complex mechanics involving a "dance" of the three closest players every few seconds? Or should we turn our attention to the Reliquary of Souls, a disembodied head of three faces crying out in desire, suffering and anger? Blain opted for the Reliquary, so we moved through a graveyard of ghosts, making our way down to the ribcage-shaped prison that held the disembodied head in place.
Reliquary of Souls was a three-phase fight. In each phase a new essence took control of the head, spinning it like a top until the new face gazed upon the raid in contempt. The Essence of Suffering was first, a phase that negated all healing. Tank control was handled by measuring proximity to the head. Since we had no way of keeping the tank alive, each tank in the rotation would take a few steps away as their health dropped to dangerously low levels. A new tank would then step in, automatically shifting the Essence's gaze to the new tank. Phase two was the Essence of Desire, sapping the raid's mana, eventually preventing healers from keeping the group alive. The gimmick with desire was dependent upon a warrior's Spell Reflection. With great precision, a coordinated team of interrupters needed to stop her Spirit Shock, which would daze the tank. If timed correctly, the tank would then be free to Spell Reflect her Deaden back on to the floating head, increasing damage taken by the boss, allowing us to close the deal before mana was completely expunged from the raid. The window of time between the interrupt of Spirit Shock and the Spell Reflect of Deaden was tight; it required all parties involved to be exceedingly sharp. And even in this expansion, where classes were beginning to take on more roles than what was held classically in Vanilla, defeating the Reliquary of Souls depended on one and one class only: warrior. Without a warrior main tank, you didn't just "suffer" through a handful of deaths and then go on to pull off a messy kill...
The final phase was the Essence of Anger, a balls-to-the-walls blow-every-cooldown-you-have phase, in which the boss slowly built up a spell reflection that would inevitably cause us to kill ourselves if the fight ran too long. Meanwhile, aggro on the floating head was by standard tank abilities alone -- no taunts were allowed. Every time aggro shifted to a new player, the head would Seethe, causing it to grow in size, power, and attack speed. The burn needed to be a controlled burn; at no point could we allow any one player to overtake the tank's quickly diminishing threat.
The Suffering phase was a non-factor, freeing up all of our efforts to pour into Desire. The raid delivered a one-two punch, thanks to Blain's careful coordination of rotating interrupts via the rogues, and Ater shouldering the responsibility of reflecting Deaden. It wasn't long before we'd made progress into the final phase, letting a barrage of damage pour into the screaming head of Anger. On May 18th, 2008, Descendants of Draenor defeated the Reliquary of Souls, only one week after defeating Teron Gorefiend. We were now 5/9 in Black Temple, more than half-way through. So close to the end, Illidan became more of a reality with every approaching raid.
We lined up in front of the fallen head, their three faces now quiet, eyelids closed over angry, suffering eyes. When the aesthetics fell into place, I took our screenshot of the Reliquary of Souls, then promptly uploaded it to the forums that evening. I stuck to my guns on the promise I made to Ater, stressing how important our team progress was in Black Temple, and how important each and every one of the contributing raiders were to our continued success. I was determined to acknowledge their efforts and remind them that while we (much like the Reliquary of Souls itself) may have changing faces, we remained a family and a team. I needed to tell them. I needed to convince them.
I needed to convince myself.
The Reliquary of Souls was the last boss that Ater defeated as a member of the 25-Man progression team in Descendants of Draenor.