Kyo

Aeilunia Online

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The first thing he saw was light. It was intense, bright and with a tint of blue. He felt himself falling, softly, gently. Then, without warning, his feet touched solid ground. The light split, section ing into glowing rings around his body, before collapsing and fading away. What lay ahead was a feast for the senses.

He was stood on the top of a section of stone steps, looking down on to a large plaza filled with people. There was too. Any to count, each of them unique to one another. Some were tall, bulky men in huge, plate armour, their heads hiding behind horned helmets, with axes, sword and shield at their side. Others were slight, athletic and light on their feet, dressed in hoods and capes, holding daggers and swords. And yet stranger still, some were tiny cat creatures, walking on two legs like a human, and wearing clothes.

And yet none of these figures were strange to the man. Not the elves or the dwarves, or even the tiny, talking cats, the Caith as they were called. The man was human, standing a sturdy 6ft tall, with lean, athletic muscle. His hair was long, black and long enough to hang down the length of his back. His clothing was light, wearing only a thin, white vest over his chest, with black leggings on his legs. Attached around his waste was a rather elaborate falda made of white and blue cloth, with peculiar markings in the fabric. The man was wearing long, black leather gloves with light armour gauntlets, and black armoured boots.

He turned around to see what was behind him. It was a large archway made of stone. It was a Stellar Gate, a way to travel incredibly far distances in the blink of an eye, but only between two adjoining gates. It seemed that it was offline for now, so he turned his attention back toward the town. He could hardly believe that this was Throndulin, the Capitol of Illuthein. He had spent a great deal of his time further north in Mjyrn, but the city had changed so much since last he saw it. The man lifted his hand and suddenly a transluscent window appeared out of thin air. He browsed through the tabs using his hands until he came to his profile.

Name: Zank

Level: 85

Champion Rank: E

The man furrowed his brow as he read the information. Rank E? Impossible. He was an S rank, the top tier of the Player versus Player league. Apparently the rumours were true, with the new expansion came a reset of the ranks. He sighed, visibly bothered by this. He was a Corrupted Feyblade, a fighting class in the game Aeiluna Online. He had spent countless hours achieving his S rank status, only for the developers tore set it? This better be a bug.

Zank tabbed through his interface again, checking over his inventory. At least his gear was all still there. He lifted his freehand and a black steel short sword materialised within it via a cool, green fractal effect. He checked the swords grip, feeling its weight in his hand. He was impressed, at least, by the haptic feedback upgrade that came with the expansion. A:O always had a pretty decent sense of realism, but there was still something about it, something that just felt artificial.

He sniffed the air. He could smell the aromas of the local flora, a subtle blend of smells that made him think of the real countryside. Not to mention the view. Zank closed his interface and took it all in. Throndulin was a large city built within a vast woodland area. The buildings were made of wood and stone, and ivy and moss had grown over most of it in the passing of time. Well, at least that's what the graphics suggested. He looked onward past the plaza to the road ahead. There was a bride built over the canal. If he remembered correctly the market square was that way. In fact he didn't have to remember. He opened his map window and selected the market square, highlighting a marker over where he wanted to go.

The following sensation was familiar to him but he always found it a little hard to get used to. Using map markers implanted an artificial sense of direction in a players mind. It was only available in previously explored areas and cities, and it was certainly useful, but it still felt weird. Zank began to make a move, thinking about what to do first. Once he had stocked up on health potions at the market he would probably start the long grind ahead.

The level cap had been increased to 100. He was level 85. 15 levels didn't seem like a lot at face value, but within each level requiring a higher amount of exp, the road to 100 would probably take him as long as the previous 85 levels had. And then there was the other issue. Ranked PvP didn't start until next week. If he was going to level up, he was going to have to do quests. Which meant he'd probably have to group up if he wanted to progress quickly. He hated playing with others. Well, he didn't mind beating them up in the arena, but running around in dungeons with a bunch of idiotic time wasters wasn't his idea of fun. Yet still, in order to each endgame it had to be done.

As Zank made his way over the bridge he accessed his interface and went to the group tab. He clicked the box to toggle his LFG status to on. As he did he noticed that some of the other players in sight began to shimmer slightly in his view. That meant they were also looking for groups. If only it were that easy though. As he walked past most of them he noted the usual chants of the LFG crowd.

"Looking for Tank only!" One of them called

"Sorry, this group is just for Dominus guilders only!"

"Can you boost me through Iron Watchtower?"

Zank shook his head. He didn't have much time for 90 percent of the players in this game. And with the new expansion they were all out in force. He made his way into the market square, which looked, unfortunately, insanely crowded.

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The moment Claire logged into the Aeiluna Online servers, her inbox began to be flooded by welcome messages and greetings from the group of over 5000 people she had registered in her Friends list. The game usually sent a notification to all of her friends whenever she logged in, just like all other MMOs. Although it could be pretty annoying at times to have your message inbox flooded, Claire rather enjoyed the attention she was receiving from all her "fans". Most of them were people whom she conducted dungeon runs with before, or those who had learned of her reputation for performing miraculous comebacks in seemingly impossible situations.

 

<F3r4lB01> Welcome back!

<Darknessheart3524> yo

<PantsuTank119> wanna hang out?

 

With a sigh, Claire closed the floating menu with a wave of her hand. It would take a good ten minutes just to sort out all the various PMs she had received, and today wasn't the day to do it. The new expansion, Naethirglyph, was out! With all the exciting new content and areas to explore, what interested Claire most was the level cap increase to 100. Some early leaks hinted that there might have been another job advancement above level 90, but information regarding the matter was still unclear. But if there truly was a next job, Claire was determined to be the first one to obtain it.

 

She flicked a hand across the inventory screen, scrolling down to equip her usual outfit. Laevateinn appeared in her grip with a sparkle of pixels as she hefted the staff, feeling its familiar weight in her hands. It was her prized weapon, a legendary quest reward which had required a party of over 30 level 85 players over 6 hours to complete. And they had almost failed at the end. To most players, Laevateinn wasn't considered a very useful weapon for a mage. Its passive effect didn't directly help in spell-casting, after all. But Claire had taken a liking to it, and had found many uses for the quirky little weapon.

 

The city of Throndulin was particularly busy today, with hordes of new and old players alike logging in to check out the new expansion. Claire hurried through the main streets, searching high and low for the yellow exclamation mark on her minimap which would signal the existence of a new quest. There it is! She spotted an NPC in the armor of the Royal Guard standing on the side of the road, talking animatedly with a crowd of players.

 

She moved quickly through the crowd, who parted for her after someone shouted, "Hey, it's Everstorm!" "No way!" "Do you mean that Everstorm?" Soon most of the lower-leveled players had moved aside for her as they stared at the living legend in awe. The guard also noted Claire's presence, and saluted as she came to stand in front of him. "The King sends his regards to the good Chronomancer!"

 

Claire raised an eyebrow. Since when did NPCs learn to differentiate between players? And his behavior seems different. Did they upgrade the AI? She coughed, resting her staff on the ground as she nodded back at the soldier. "What's the matter?"

 

"King Athrein requests that you see him in the throne room of Thronduil Castle immediately."

 

"Very well, I will make my way there now. Thanks," she said, waving at the soldier as she turned and walked away. The crowd of admirers followed her tail, albeit from a distance, but she ignored them. Perhaps the newer players wanted to leech off her for EXP and loot, and were going to jump onto her party the moment she accepted the quest. She was used to that by now.

 

Thronduil Castle was a mindbogglingly large building, with great spirals that extended into the skies. Soldiers regularly patrolled its boundaries, and barely gave most players a nod or two as they walked past. But most of them came to attention and saluted at Claire as they met her line of sight, causing her to wonder just what was up with all this attention. Soon she approached the King in the splendidly decorated throne room, who stood up and opened his arms in a welcoming gesture.

 

"It is good to see you, Chronomancer Everstorm!" He greeted with a loud, booming voice. No, this is fishy. Very fishy, Claire decided. The NPCs are acting too human-like. Did the developers really put in this many extra dialogue possibilities? Was this a shout-out to the more dedicated players of A:O?

 

Claire kept her doubts within herself, instead bowing politely to the King. "You summoned me, sire?"

 

"Straight to the point as always," King Athrein said, chuckling. "I have summoned you and several other renowned warriors from all across the lands for a dire situation." So it was a new quest after all. "You see... our soldiers have reported that travelers have been disappearing in the backroads of the Felwood. Normally our country can handle these problems ourselves... but we have received eyewitness reports that Infernal Demons were spotted in the vicinity."

 

"Infernal Demons...?!" Claire muttered. They were among the highest difficulty monsters, mostly known for swarming the halls of end-game quest dungeons with their insane damage output and durability for a standard monster.

 

King Athrein sensed her thoughts as well, and nodded gravely. "To have them so close to our peaceful city... I cannot overlook this. And yet, I cannot risk the lives of my soldiers against the foul spawns of Hell. I have no choice but to rely on the expertise of you and your comrades, Everstorm. Will you help me investigate this matter?"

 

A quest notice popped up in front of Claire.

 

NEW QUEST RECEIVED.

Mission: investigate the mysterious cave.

Optional: Kill 35 Infernals.

Level requirements: 85 and above.

Accept? Y/N.

 

She blinked at the quest level requirement. This was indeed new content. She glanced back at the horde of disappointed newbies, giving them a "Maybe next time" look as they milled away, then turned around to press the glowing green 'Y'.

 

"I knew you wouldn't let us down," the King said with a firm nod. "Before you set off, I would recommend that you gather a group of individuals as powerful as you. The Infernal Demons will not be easy prey."

 

As he turned to sit back down on his throne, Claire continued to stare at him with her piercing gaze. "One more question before I leave, sire. Why did you call for me, out of everyone else?"

 

"Isn't that obvious, Chronomancer? Your name is well known in this city. Our records are full of your past achievements. It would take a fool not to request for your aid."

 


 

Claire sat on a large rock, pondering over the King's words. I've barely ever talked to a GM before. They couldn't have taken such special notice of me that they'd reprogram a whole city of NPCs to recognize me... And that human-like behavior is just too realistic.

 

Before she had left the castle premises, however, another NPC had grabbed her hand and pulled her to one side. It was Silvarith, the Court Magus. He was well known for many of the more rewarding side quests for lower leveled players. For him to actively grab a PC, however... He spoke in excited tones, telling Claire about how this was a great opportunity for him to study the potential uses of demon claws in alchemy and medicine and whatnot. She highly doubted the Magus could actually create viable medicine out of the fingernails of a hellspawn, but she accepted his requirement as well - Optional: Collect 15 Fel Claws and give them to Silvarith.

 

She sighed, deciding to put all of this NPC nonsense out of her mind for now. Claire looked up at the market square, filled with bustling players looking for parties or groups to undertake missions with. Unfortunately for her, not a single one of her adventuring buddies who were at level 85 were currently in the game, forcing her to look for new people to work with if she wanted to complete this quest by today. She lifted a finger, hesitated for a moment, then pressed the button which would toggle her LFG status.

 

<Everstorm85> Looking for party of level 85 adventurers for new Naethirglyph quest.

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Eve signed in, closing her eyes as was habit as the new world began knitting together around her. She spawned on a small island in the middle of a crystal blue lake, the sky was overcast as it always was in the zone. This was her favorite location, the greenery was thick, the trees huge, and it all seemed to be cast in a teal and purple hue, it made it very surreal. Looking down, she gazed at her new body, skin a dark dusty purple, toned and curvy in such a way she was convinced it was an impossibility. She grazed her finger pads over the soft leather that covered her breasts, her character had no genitals like this, no nipples to accidentally give her 'headlights' in the revealing attire. If she were to take off all her armor she would appear in a generic pair of panties and a bra.

She quickly summoned her bow, it was like an iconic part of her and she enjoyed the feeling of it's weight, not to mention without it she was just an elf in a leatherkini. She liked the skimpy clothes even if it did draw on unwanted attention, she wore them regardless. Anyone who still hadn't learned of her infamous reputation for dueling and facerolling people who spoke crudely to her she had no problem teaching. Perhaps she wore the skimpy armor because it amused her, no, that wasn't right, she just liked feeling sexy. It always amused her that no matter what action she did, not matter how beat up she got in a battle, the leather bikini that appeared to be barely hanging on by a thread, would never fall off or get bunched up, it sat perfectly on her body as if it were painted there.

Eve cast to summon her mount, a Shadow Dragon, though technically a wyvern, whom she fondly called Charon. When she'd went mount hunting and she'd discovered the Shadow Dragon she knew she was in love. Eve based her character around the concept of being 'Demonic' all her clothing was dark and if it had magical enhancements they glowed a fel-green. This dragon was no different, it was all black, it's eyes a glowing red, it's saddle all black adorned with skulls, and it's entire body seemed to radiate a kind of dark power that came off as fel-green as well. What's more she had gone through great feats to achieve a multi-seater mount who also had these shadow vendors who occupied the extra seats, but they could be dismissed to allowed companions on board. She was one of three people who currently held this mount and she had been the first to achieve him. Though her methods may have been less than honest.

The shadow vendors were very interesting, they looked almost like shadow ghosts, there wasn't really any detailed features, they just seemed to mist, black smoke seeming to waft off of them and disappear, only their glowing purple eyes stood out on their faces. Their bodies were adorned with very billowy black clothes, but sometimes it was hard to discern the clothing from their bodies. Generally they spoke to each other, they had whispery voices, that spoke of great evils, but they were always very vague never explained if they had committed them, if they had seen them, or if they'd just heard of them. Today however, was quite strange in that they seemed to be talking to her. They called her "Mistress Eve" sounded like a dominatrix name to her, but she kind of liked it. Weird though, that they would call her Eve instead of the name she'd selected when creating her character which had been "Evengeline" Eve was just what most players called her.

On the back of Charon she saw Throndulin coming into view, a magnificent city, surrounded by the beauty of rolling hills and thick vegetation. The area around it she had enjoyed wandering through it just to take in the sites many a times. A virtual reality game was leaps and bounds more immersive than a conventional one, and vastly more beautiful than reality.

She timed it just perfectly so that the town's auto-dismount feature would place her close enough to the ground that she would take little - if any - fall damage and she would be just before the quest giver. Charon poofed into black smoke and she landed gracefully on the ground.

"Fare thee well, Mistress Eve." Eve spun around quickly to see her shadow vendors turning into black mist and disappearing. That was new.

Turning back to her quest giver she noted the many new eyes on her, newbies, she could tell simply by their armor. They eyed her character, some of them staring at her awesome bow that was dripping with the demonic power, other's ogling her scantily clad body. Older players glanced her way and that quickly looked away, aware of her infamy for hazing players who were crude or vulgar to her.

Already confused with the NPC's new attitude, she didn't dawdle as the quest giver called her 'Eve,' instead she just hurried off to the King. On her way in she saw Everstorm, her name was as famous as her's was infamous. Generally she enjoyed playing with other 'females' even males who played females were generally more respectful, but Everstorm drew entirely too much attention for her tastes.

'Finally, a challenge' she thought as the King noted the infernals to her, she prided herself on taking on 2 and 3 man quests alone, but this one called for at least 5, so she better seek companions. With a sigh she flipped on her "LFG" status and walked out into the square, immediately she was bombarded with people trying to flirt with her. Opening up her chat she started dropping the many flirtatious requests into her ignore box. Her ignore box was almost flooded.

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The Blasted Bluffs, a region of parched, semi-arid grassland within the heartlands of Illuthein, were usually relatively quiet due to the low level of the monsters in the region and the dearth of major quests that required one to explore it -- thus, before the expansion had gone live, it had been mostly empty of players save for the trickle of new players who spent a few levels doing side-quests and training their sword arms on the monsters before leveling up and leaving for good. However, just like a certain expansion of a certain popular online multiplayer game involving a big black dragon, the Naethirglyph expansion had shaken up the world map considerably, scattering numerous secrets throughout the game world and drastically changing several regions, the Blasted Bluffs being one of them. A strange tower of supposedly Naethir origin had mysteriously arisen at the heart of the Bluffs, and it was rumored that the secrets of the Naethir lay still preserved within if one could fight past the Infernal Demons that had infested its hallways. Obviously, this meant there was rare loot up there, and the sudden influx of go-getting treasure hunters had once again brought players streaming into the Blasted Bluffs.

Of course, all the new activity introduced in the region did have certain unfortunate side effects, as Hiro had seen all too clearly when he'd opened the Region chat room upon entering the zone.

...

<VanillaIceCreamed> FINDING PARTY FOR SHIMMERING TOWER LEVEL 3 NO PUSSIES OR ITALIAN FAGGOTS ALLOWED

<XxX_uRb4nSn1p3z0r_XxX> S>Rusted Iron Sword, Purple rarity, 100k negotiable to 80k PM if interested

<Edward_Hawtness<333> OMG XxX_uRb4nSn1p3z0r_XxX ur a faget how is dis shit worth 80k

<BERZERKBLITZ> Join the guild DARK THUNDER ANGEL RONIN NEPHILIM OF THE LICH EMPEROR OF DARKEST BLACKNESS now! LEVEL 85 PLAYERS ONLY

<VanillaIceCreamed> IF UR ALL GONNA BE FUCKWITTED PUSSIES ABT GOING TO SHIMMERING TOWER LEVEL 3 U SHUD HIDE IN UR PARENTS' BASEMENT WHER U BELONG

<PewPewBiriBiri> my parents are dead

<VanillaIceCreamed> LOL

<PewPewBiriBiri> no srs

<VanillaIceCreamed> U MAD

<PewPewBiriBiri> yes actually

<PewPewBiriBiri> you are the weeping pus filled abscess upon humanity's collective backside

<MasterOfGloriousFisting> Heeeey PewPew are u a girl

<MasterOfGloriousFisting> U sound kinky lets cyber

<PewPewBiriBiri> BRB committing hara kiri

<ChouGingaBishounen> Where can I find the Hermit Tinker anyway? I've been looking around for him all day but I can't figure out where

<MasterOfGloriousFisting>learn2map newfag

<VanillaIceCreamed> U CAN'T FIND HIM CUZ UR HED IS FULL OF GHEY

<VanillaIceCreamed> BROTTTHEEEERRRRRR

<ChouGingaBishounen> Do I know you?

<ChouGingaBishounen> Never mind I'm leaving

<VanillaIceCreamed> WHERES THE HIDDEN FAIRY GOLD CACHE

<MasterOfGloriousFisting> in my dick lol

...

Hiro frowned in disgust as he flicked a finger, closing the chat window. It had been a lot more civil in closed beta, and the whole rush of new players with the release of the expansion probably didn't help matters either. He wasn't about to go trawling the regional chat for a party willing to join him on his sojourn for glorious treasure, but that didn't concern him unduly. A horde of Level 86-87 mobs, while outleveling him by a small margin, wouldn't cause him too many problems -- after all, he was currently in possession of some of the best equipment in the game. He'd be able to cope. However, just to be sure, he sent out a call for assistance onto Dominus group chat. He wasn't a leader there, and didn't show up for raids that often, but his guild mates were generally quite happy to join him if he'd asked.

A few minutes and one brush with a group of small, annoying critters later, he'd arrived at the ground floor of the Shimmering Tower. It was a strange edifice, a colossal, monolithic spire seemingly carved from some strange crystalline material that glowed from within. The hexagon-tiled surface of the spire felt strangely cold and slippery to the touch, and seemed impervious to any form of damage -- almost as if this resurfaced relic of the Naethir wasn't fully in this plane of reality. That wasn't even down to developer laziness either -- they'd recently implemented dynamic terrain deformation a couple of updates ago, which pleased Hiro greatly. No longer would he gaze in awe as the might of his spells failed to wear down small rocks.

He walked through the first few levels of the Tower without incident -- they were brimming with players fighting the new Infernal Demons, presumably grinding materials to turn in for some side quest or another. He had grander ambitions in mind, though; the upper levels of the tower held better loot as he ascended -- but of course, with the specter of new, horrifically powerful monsters to defeat. Level 4 should be safe enough to enter solo, at least.

A few moments later, the massive, silvery gates to the 4th level of the tower swung open with nary a creak, and Hiro strode in, resplendent in the pearly-white armor plate of the Celestial Raiment, an exceedingly valuable set of end-game equipment he'd torn from the grasp of another forgotten nightmare of the Naethir. He made no attempt to conceal himself, and very quickly, he'd attracted the attention of a huge horde of monsters -- various unpleasant specimens of demonhood, all insectoid, diaphanous wings, spiraling horns and wicked bloodstained talons. They made a cacophony of snarls, growls and bellows as they approached him, slowly forming into a ring that surrounded him completely and cut him off from the exit.

"I SHALL FEAST ON YOUR HEART!" one of them bellowed, and the whole group charged as one. However, Hiro seemingly made no move, and the demon closed the distance, and swung a massive red-bladed war axe into Hiro's skull--

And it passed right through. The demon blinked in confusion, staring slack-jawed as Hiro's appearance began to flicker and distort. Then, the illusion exploded in a flash of brilliant light. The surrounding Demons writhed, clutching at their eyes and screaming in agony, just as the real Hiro finally stepped out from behind a nearby pillar. "Music, please." he said, and strains of booming orchestral music overrode the standard ambient music. He'd won this little trinket at an event a few months back -- it was rather gauche to use it in towns, the equivalent of installing a massive boom box in your car and driving around town with the windows down, but this place was pretty much empty save for him, at least for now. A spectacle like what he planned to unleash needed suitable accompaniment, too -- what was fire and fury without the auditory perfection needed to back it up?

"Mirage. Radial Blind." Hiro's legendary feat, a powerful skill awarded to those who reached the pinnacle of their power pre-expansion, was Arcane Synthesis -- when triggered, he could combine the effects of up to three spells to form a new one. These combinations could be very useful indeed -- and cost him dearly, as far as mana went. Even a fully-equipped max-level character would have had trouble casting more than handful of synthesized spells; Hiro had a trick up his sleeves, though. Running out of mana wouldn't bother him that much, and in a way, benefited him somewhat.

"Jellied Napalm." The glyphs carved along the body of the wand clenched in his right hand flashed with orange light, and several blue lights scattered across Hiro's white armor winked on. Abruptly, a swirling ball of red light appeared in the creatures' midst and exploded, and the blinded demons were engulfed by sticky masses of translucent goo. Once the blinding wore off, they'd find themselves hampered by the viscous substance -- and it helped that it was incredibly flammable as well.

"I HONOR MY LORD BY DESTROYING YOU!" One of them roared, the gunk suddenly sliding off his body like it were mere water as he flexed his bulging pectoral muscles, pulsing, glowing veins suddenly popping out across his exposed red flesh. He leapt twenty feet straight upwards, soaring over his stunned, ensnared comrades, a black greatsword raised to cleave Hiro down.

"Oh no you don't. Heart of the Dragon. Hellfire Missile." Abruptly, the blue light shining from Hiro's armor extinguished, the stored power within it rushing into his wand, which thrummed for a moment, the glyphs on it ablaze, before it discharged a lance of bluish-white fire into the head of the Demon with a report eerily similar to a gunshot. The lower half of the demon limply collapsed, its upper body completely vaporized by the overcharged blast of fire. Before it had even hit the ground, the maimed corpse had already started disintegrating into a swirling cloud of flickering orange sparks. Bloodcursed Avenger, Level 87. Has a magic-immune berserk mode. I'll make sure to keep that in mind next time. While he did have a trick to counter magic immunity, explaining why he wasn't just a red smear on the floor at the moment, using the Hellfire Missile had depleted the stored magical charge inside his armor that he'd been gathering. He'd have to put a bit more juice into his coup de grace now.

"Accelerant." A stream of crackling sparks leaped from the tip of his wand, and when they touched the demons' skin, flakes of orange light started peeling away from them and dispersing into nothingness like soap bubbles. Most Demons were fire-resistant, but this little cantrip solved that problem handily. Hiro was a connoisseur of the glorious art of explosions -- while some might point out that he would have been better off switching to frost spells for the occasion, in his mind, those people were guilty of indecision -- they were but sheep in human clothing, bereft of the iron-hard conviction of purpose he demanded of himself. He had devoted his life to the noble explosion -- he would not betray his beloved, and forsake her for some other evocation merely to get around some gibbering weakling's defenses. It was his responsibility to help her along, to pave the way so that she may do her deadly work. The day he managed to set fire to flame itself would be the day he could honestly declare that he was satisfied with his character's power.

"Guiding Light of Devastation." A metallic orb appeared behind him, crackled and lit up, projecting points of red light onto each of the incapacitated Demons -- each point revealed a chink in his enemy's armor, or perhaps a weak joint or unprotected flesh; this spell was one of the few he had that provided some utility to any of the sword-swinging brutes that many in this game favored using, as it increased the chance to score critical hits with both spells and regular attacks. Hiro glanced at his wand, and flipped it, opening the brass cylinder incorporated into its frame. Six emptied glass vials fell out of the cylinder like expended rounds, breaking into tiny splinters as they hit the ground. Six mana potions for the foreplay, six more for the blazing climax. innuendo completely intended.

Hiro raised his second wand, another treasure he'd taken from the shade of a vengeful Archmage of a bygone millennium. Similarly to his first one, it had a revolving cylinder mounted on its elegantly-sculpted silver frame -- it more closely resembled a rune-carved revolver than the stereotypical magic wand, really. Then, the light pouring from the seams of his armor reaching blinding intensity, he prepared the grand finale.

"Crossfire Barrage." The first movement of the final overture, and the one that would form the foundation for the Synthesized masterpiece he was constructing. This one was a saturation-bombing spell effective against large hordes of enemies, as it launched a hailstorm of exploding orbs of flame to blanket a huge area around himself; the orbs' flight was haphazard and inaccurate, and alone, he'd only have used it as a last resort when surrounded by a horde. However, that was easily remedied. His wand revolved twice as a titanic pulse of energy surged into it, and the actinic light blazing from it made it more resemble a lightsaber than anything else.

"Hellfire Missile." The second movement, the crescendo. He'd used a Hellfire Missile earlier on, against the demon that had eluded his trap -- it was among the most powerful single-target spells in the game, a blazing lance of heat that sought out enemies and destroyed them, leaving no chance of evasion. It would imbue his Crossfire Barrage with its power and infallible accuracy, effectively eliminating its weaknesses and turning it into a light show that belonged to a mecha anime more than a fantasy roleplaying game. His wand revolved twice again, and the thrum of energy coursing through it intensified to a roar. Already, Hiro could smell ozone in the air, as if the very air itself was being rent by his power.

"Solar Overdrive." The third movement, the splendid climax; the moment when the music swelled to its triumphant conclusion. It would charge his enemies with the volatile, unstable power of a newborn star, weakening the bonds that held their very flesh together and consuming their bodies in a star-hot explosion should they expire. It would not only amplify the burning effect of his Jellied Napalm once it was set ablaze; the moment the weakest of the demons perished, his death throes would unleash a chain reaction that would tear through the entire group, reducing them to floating cinders on the wind. The wand made its final two revolutions, and waving it like a conductor's baton, he unleashed hell.

In a flurry of pixels, a rift opened in the air above him, disgorging a hailstorm of bluish-white fiery missiles that arced and swerved through the air in a beautiful if motion sickness-inducing synchronized dance. Each missile sought out the illuminated weak points upon the demon it pursued, every single shot from the barrage impacted, and Hiro felt a wave of hot wind rush past him and singe his eyebrows as each enemy was consumed in a sapphire-blue inferno. This, however, was just build-up.

A fraction of a second later, the previous barrage was immediately dwarfed as the first demon expired, its body violently deconstructed into a roiling mass of star-hot plasma. This conflagration exploded outwards, and with every other demonic life it claimed, the blast intensified yet further, the lives of each demon adding to the heat of the blaze. Soon after, every single demon's body had been completely consumed by a massive sphere of white light a hundred feet wide, bathing the entire level of the tower in with searing, blinding light. Then, after ten whole seconds, the light finally faded, leaving behind a roiling mushroom cloud, its insides crackling with lightning.

A single tear slid down Hiro's face as he toggled a button, letting the music fade out. A virtuoso performance, if I might say so myself.

Then, he became aware of another in the room with him. From the looks of it, not friendly; the player behind him's name was marked in brilliant red, the brand placed upon those who had slain at least 3 other players unprovoked outside the regulated confines of arena PVP within the last week. A PKer, one who'd devoted the power at his command to hunting and slaying his fellow players for wealth, glory and perhaps their own twisted amusement. This one was a warrior -- his features were hidden behind gleaming black plate armor, and in his hands he bore a great hammer, its head crackling with electricity.

"Well played," Hiro said with an approving smile. The PKer must have been tailing him for a while -- there was no other explanation for how he'd managed to show up at such a perfect moment, just as Hiro had depleted all the vials within his Hextech Chambers -- now, he was essentially naked, with many of his most powerful offensive techniques now on cool-down and with no mana left to draw upon but his fairly constrained reserves. The passive effect of his chosen equipment was a double-edged sword -- while it boosted his offensive prowess to unparalleled heights, he paid the price in increased power consumption; even with his full mana pool, he was limited to casting a single Hellfire Missile before the PKer crushed his skull. While it might have had enough power to slay him, seeing how that the titanic expenditure of energy from his grand finale had filled his armor's power storage systems to capacity once again, but if he'd possessed a countermeasure against his pyromancy, he would be a sitting duck against his opponent.

There was one thing he could do, however. His Heart of the Dragon skill was on cooldown now, but the moment he activated it, he could rest assured that his only shot would strike home, impervious to the shielding effects that the PKer might have possessed. If he could bluff, if he could stall for time for long enough, he'd be able to blow that man away, the searing heat of his Hellfire Missile unimpeded by his opponent's tricks or cantrips -- and claim the bounty the murderer had incurred upon himself.

"I assume you've been watching my little performance. I hope you liked it." He said, waving his wands like a conductor's baton. His opponent remained silent, however. "However, did I fire five shots or six just now? In the excitement, even I'd have difficulty remembering." It was lucky he'd neglected to empty the cylinder, or his stalker would have called the bluff right away.

"This is Vasto, one of the most powerful wands in the world, and a single blast from it could leave you as little more than a smoking pair of boots. So, I ask you: do I feel lucky?" he tapped his foot, pointing the wand towards the other man and smirking. "You feeling lucky, punk?"

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He had been queued up to enter the game the moment content of the next expansion became available. Ever since the announcement he had been excited to participate in the race to level 100, hoping that all his preparations and planning would pay off and give him the rare achievement of being the World’s First Level 100 Human. Of course committing to a race like that meant that he’d have to be one of the first to login as well.

Once he got logged into the game he spawned on the Baldur Islands, a level 85 Daily Quest hub frequently used by players prior to the expansion. Unlike most other players he didn’t waste time reveling in the marvels Exus had incorporated into the game with the newest expansion. He disregarded the sense of realism the game had been imbued with and immediately commenced his race to the top.

Prior to the release of the expansion Orson had spent a day completing every daily quest available on the Baldur Islands and planned on turning them in as soon as they started granting experience instead of Gold with the release of the expansion. After turning in most of his quests he noticed that the experience gain had been nerfed with the expansion. He had counted on receiving a lot more experience and would’ve been incredibly frustrated if not for the fact that he had still accumulated a good amount of experience for the time he had spent just turning quests in.

He wondered whether he should head towards Throndulin or find something to do elsewhere when he noticed a message pop up in the guild chat. Most of the online members were already grouped up and looking for quests, but one of them was apparently still looking for a group, asking if someone wanted to join him in the Shimmering Tower. With no other leads he decided that he might as well head over and explore the thing himself. Travelling there, even by flying mount, would take too much time… He’d have to ask someone for help and he was absolutely sure he’d end up regretting it.

…

<CitizenKane> Wtb Portal to the Bluffs.
<Planeswalker18> IS THAT ORSON? ORSON PLZ BOOST ME
<TrainPuncher> LOL Orson duel me I’ll wreck you
<QueenBitch> I heard Dominus is going to stop raiding because they were sick of your shit
<Planeswalker18> PLZ ORSON DONT IGNORE ME BOOST PLZ
<GhostHunterIsabelle> Orson I’ll make you a portal.
<Planeswalker18> Fine. Ignore me.
<Planeswalker18> Keep ignoring me after I kill your family.

…

Ignoring the disturbing 12-year-old looking for attention Orson closed the area chat, contacted the mage called Isabelle and paid her for the portal she summoned. After stepping through he felt as if his body was whirled through a vortex of time and space before suddenly appearing in the middle of a quest hub in the Bluffs. He quelled his desire to open the area chat and read if anyone had anything interesting to share; the disturbing exchange on the Islands had left him mildly traumatized.

With no clue of what to expect Orson wandered into the tower and crept up floor after floor while avoiding the many groups already engaged in combat with monsters. He found that the third floor’s 85 to 86 level range was the most crowded one and became curious about what he would find if he scaled the tower even further. Being one of the beefiest classes in the game combined with his legendary equipment meant that he’d probably be able to take a few hits of any higher leveled monster anyway.

He found something a lot more interesting than level 86 to 87 monsters. A Player Killer had gotten the jump on an unsuspecting Player and looked to be ready to attack. Normally Orson didn’t care much for PVP in any shape or form, but the person being threatened was a member of his guild. He wouldn’t be much of a Guild Leader if he’d just allow his members to get killed in front of him. He drew Tyrfing and Svallin, the sword and shield resting on his back, and slowly crept forward, hoping not to make a sound.

The second he got within 30 meters of the assailant his Swift Leap ability became useable and Orson soared before landing right in front of the Player Killer with a slash of his sword, stunning him for two seconds. While he was stunned Orson took a few steps backward, ensuring that person was stuck in between two threats. “Leave, now.†Orson said coldly. He had no interest in further conflict and hoped that his presence was enough to discourage this person from attacking anyone else.

But it seemed like he did not care. Undeterred the Player Killer charged at Hiro, jumped and prepared to smash his hammer into the Pyromancer’s head. “You are an idiot,†Orson shouted, activating his Taunt ability. Mid-air the Player Killer was dragged all the way back to Orson before his attack resumed, but now directed at Orson. Before the hammer could smash him Orson quickly raised his shield to catch the brunt of the attack. “Is this your first time fighting a Tanking class?â€

“Hellfire Missile.â€

Suddenly something hit the Player Killer in the back and a huge explosion followed. Orson noticed that nothing was applying pressure on the shield and by the time the flames had dissipated he saw that the waist and legs were the only parts left of the Player Killed. The remains fell onto their knees before landing on the ground. Orson knew that the missiles fire by Hiro were enough to gib NPCs and mobs, but he had never seen a player get destroyed like that. A flurry of pixels started drifting into the air as what remained of the body slowly disintegrated. “Hello, Hiro. I’ve wasted enough time, let’s clear this place now.â€

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Early morning sun shone through the bedroom window, casting a warm glow on the blue walls. Outside, the sound of birds twittering to one another. A young woman in her 20's opened her window to let some fresh air in, and to hear the bird song as an added bonus. She brushed her long straight black hair out of her pale-skinned face and leant over to her computer and picked up a magazine. The strategy guide, 'Exploring AO's first major expansion: Naethirglyph'. She opened it to the bookmarked page and scanned the contents curiously with her sharp hazel eyes as she fumbled to pick up her Aeiluna Online headset from her desk. It was a heavy piece of kit, though still comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time. She should know, given how much she played.

 

"Are you up yet?!" Her mother called from down the hall.
"Yeah!" She yelled back.
"Do you need anything before I go out?" Her mother asked, footsteps passing her door.
"No!" She yelled back, "God..." Under her breath. She shook her head, placing the strategy guide down. The expansion had downloaded overnight and she couldn't wait to try it out. She imagined that most players were already logging in and smiled at the idea.

"Bye!" Her mother yelled.
"Bye mom!" She returned the call, as she put the headset over her head and as she pulled it on, it obscured her vision. She sat waiting for a while, licking her lips in excitement. "Headset: On." She said, and suddenly she was falling through darkness.

 

As her body plummeted she instinctively drew in breath, gasping in surprise despite having done this thousands of times before. She looked down at her hands which were peeling away like digital confetti in a breeze. Her face was no longer her own, replaced with her digital avatar. The man called 'Raven'. A scruffy grey-haired, blue-eyed man in his early 20's, with soft attractive features. Dressed in a mixture of dark grey and black cloth and leather that fit his body snugly, with a ruffled black collar and a couple of pieces of metal protecting key areas of his body. In his left hand he held a grimoire, a tome he used to cast summoning magic. In his right, he held a large sword, though it was unusual in it's design.

 

The blade was the same size as a longsword, but it's shape was unique. It was sharp on one side, but blunt like a hammer all the way down the other side and it ended in a razor-sharp point like a needle. It was like having three weapons in one, but because of it's hammer-like back it would have been extremely heavy, at least in the real world. He had no trouble holding it. When he landed on unfamiliar ground, Raven's appearance change had been completed.
"Well, that was fun--" He coughed, clearing his throat, adjusting to the deeper voice. "Okay!" He raised his hand and touched the air in front of him, opening a small window containing a few details.

 

 

Name: Raven
Level: 85

Champion Rank: E

 

 

Rolling his eyes at the rank, as he never took part in normal battleground or arena-based PvP anyway, he moved his interest to his surroundings. The area he was in, according to the map interface, was known as 'The Floating Highlands'. He raised an eyebrow and scanned the horizon. True to it's name, the area was a large collection of valleys with mountains and rugged terrain, but there were enormous floating islands hovering overhead. He heard a thundering sound approaching from behind and yelped, leaping to one side as a sheet of water passed him, soaking the ground and splashing his face. The water was cold and refreshing but not entirely welcome as a surprise. He looked up to see another floating island hovering far above. His face paled a little, "You stay up there..." He muttered, watching the waterfall cascading down from the island slowly moving on.

 

This seemed as good an area as any to begin, the interface claimed it was for levels 85 to 87. That seemed reasonable. Raven slung his sword over his back and into it's holster, where it immediately disappeared and then placed his grimoire beside his hip, and it did the same. Vaporizing in an instant, a miniature explosion of pixels.
"Okay, quest givers..." He muttered, scratching his head quizzically. "Hrmm... where would I be if I was a quest giver..." As he pondered this however, he noticed something that distracted his thought process.

 

"Oh!" He cried, and ran towards what appeared to be a nearby cave. He waited at the entrance, unsure about stepping into the darkness without waiting a moment for any possible mobs to be drawn to his close proximity to their aggro range. Nothing happened. At least the entrance was safe. He took one final look outside at the floating islands and the beautiful valleys and crossed his arms. After a moment's thought he shrugged his shoulders, "Screw it." He walked into the cave, without looking back.

 

"Man, how long does this go on for..." He kicked a pebble on the floor as he walked, holding his hands behind his head lazily. It certainly seemed to be a long cave. He figured that it would only be this long if it held something of interest inside, otherwise why would it be there? The designers surely wouldn't just create an empty cave for the sake of it, would they? Maybe this new expansion was breaking the mould. He laughed at the idea of that. Just as he was thinking this, he saw a light ahead and chuckled.
"Totally called it." He smirked, kicking another pebble that pinged off the cave wall and struck him in the shin.

 

"Ouch!" He cried, rubbing his shin, "Ouch... hah..." He laughed, shaking a look of surprise from his face and then followed the source of light to a torch embedded into a crack in the cave wall. "Well... you're there for a reason, aren't you..." He said to himself. Talking to himself probably wasn't the best thing to do in front of others, but it helped him think better. After several minutes of further cave exploration, the tunnel began to narrow until at last the cave turned into solid stone walls. A corridor, lined with torch after torch, casting an orange glow over everything. "Creepy..." He muttered, picking up a pebble and throwing it ahead of him. The moment the stone left his hand, he regretted it. As it arced through the air, he saw the pressure plate just ahead. It's panel ever so slightly raised next to the other tiles covering the corridor floor.

"Ah crap!" He yelped, reaching for his sword and it materialised just in time. A huge spike flew down from the ceiling, threatening to impale him, but seconds before it could hit his stomach, he braced his sword in front of him and it deflected the brunt of the blow, though he skidded back across the floor, pressed by the weight of the trap. "Phew!" Raven let out a deep breath and looked around, nobody else here. Good, at least that way nobody saw his stupid mistake. He laughed to himself and then carried on down the corridor. Eventually he came to a large room and saw a glowing treasure chest at the far side. 

For a moment, he was overtaken by excitement and skipped over to it, looking a little unusual for a male avatar. But as he reached out to touch the top of the lid he paused, "Hmmm..." He looked around, "Hmmmm....." He put his thumb to his lips and gnawed on the nail thoughtfully, and then finally, "No. Nope. No no. Nope. No." He started shaking his head, "No way. No." He held his sword at the ready and accessed his grimoire, holding it in his other hand and then tapped the top of the chest. For a split-second he thought it was another trap, and then the chest happily complied and opened, revealing a tasty-looking metal gauntlet inside. He looked at the stats on it, it was perfect for him. "What luck!" Raven cheered, practically salivating at the item in front of him. He was what he called a 'Spatial Summoner', he mixed summoning magic with gravity/space magic but he also was reasonably proficient in melee thanks to the armour he wore, which unlike his magic-oriented weapons, also held a mixture of melee benefits, much like the gauntlet in front of him.

"Thank you very much, Chesty!" He said with a grin, leant forwards to grab it and then to his horror, immediately drew his hand back as the chest's edges grew teeth and tried to take his arm in a single bite, "Aah!!" He screamed and leapt back, holding his sword above his head, "Damn Mimic!" He snapped, as the chest grew long, spindly legs and arms and cooed, taking one lurching, unnerving step after another towards him.

 

Holding the grimoire in front of him, it suddenly lifted into the air and he quickly began casting, "Summoning Arte: Stone Golem!" He called out, and the pages of the grimoire flew by and suddenly stopped at an exact page, cast a brilliant white light and then the stone from the ground in front of him cracked and a huge arm smashed through the tiles, then the other arm and with a single almighty pull it drew itself out of the ground, roaring as it did so. It was almost twice the size of Raven, made of dirt and rock and pebbles with two empty black holes where it's eyes presumably were meant to be. It immediately recognized the threat to it's master and charged the Mimic which cackled and leapt to one side to avoid the charge and sprinted directly towards him.
"Dick!" Raven yelped as he was forced to block the Mimic's deadly bite with his sword, the metal clashed with the creature's teeth but it was too busy, focusing it's attention on him to notice the golem's fists, clenched together into a single wrecking ball. The huge fist-shaped boulder crashed into the side of the Mimic's head and it crashed into the nearby wall.

 

Before it could get to it's feet, Raven knew that now was the time to strike. He raised his blade, aimed it for the inside of the lid and as it cackled, pulling itself up, Raven activated his teleportation ability. He crossed the distance in an instant, popping out of existence on the spot and spearing the Mimic a second later. It cried out as it's health emptied to zero and it exploded into pixels, leaving behind the metal gauntlet. "Yes! I'm awesome." He laughed, but heard the shuffle of rock and looked over at the golem which though it could hold no emotion on it's face, almost seemed to say 'Really?'

"Oh, go away!" He snapped, and the golem collapsed into a pile of rubble once more. He picked up the metal gauntlet and pulled it onto his left hand, pulling his sleeve over the top of it and examining the stats in detail with a look of satisfaction plastered on his face. Just then, he heard another noise behind him. He whirled around to see another player standing in the doorway.
"Oh, you got there first. Damn." The player muttered. He was dressed in heavy armour like a knight with an unwieldy-looking mace.
"Sorry. You snooze, you lose." Raven replied, smugly, still appreciating his new prize.
"Well, nevermind... hey--" The player paused and then clicked his fingers, "You're Raven!" He laughed.

"Yeah...?" He replied.

"Well, like, you're a legend man, you're a PKKer right?" 
"Yeah..." Raven replied, smiling. Then his smile spread into a greedy grin, "What, you wanna hire me?" 
"I wish. Haha. But I don't have that kind of coin man... Hey, do you--"

The player stopped speaking, his eyes shuddered and frantically looked around as though he couldn't understand what was happening and then they rolled up until only the whites of his eyes remained and his body dropped to the cold ground where it exploded into an array of pixels, "Wh--" Raven held his hand out, surprised and confused at what just happened, but as the pixels cleared he saw someone standing behind the player he'd been talking to. Stepping from the shadows he could immediately see the red tint to their character name, this was a player killer. It was true that player killer killers had the same tint if they killed PKs on a regular basis, but what had just transpired was a clear indication that this guy was no PKK, he had just needlessly killed an unaware player for no reason whatsoever.

 

"Wh-what did you do that for?!" Raven barked, holding his weapons at the ready.
"Oh please, the item was gone, I thought i'd have a little fun at least!" The PKer chuckled. He was dressed in purple from head to toe, with a random covering of leather armour over the top of the cloth. In each hand he held a nasty looking dagger. This guy was some kind of ambush predator, no doubt. Focusing his damage on a single surprise attack and then if the victim wasn't already dead, he'd go for the kill while the poor player was confused and probably stunned. 
"You're despicable!" Raven snarled, taking a step forwards. This was exactly why he was a player killer killer. A player who specialised in taking out those who preyed on unsuspecting or weaker players than themselves for no other reason than for kicks. He hated it.
"It's a game, relax, would you." The PKer laughed, shaking his head.

"You're a bully, I hate bullies... he was just talking to me! Just talking!!" Raven yelled at his enemy, who raised his daggers in preparation, and the battle began.

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<Everstorm85> Looking for party of level 85 adventurers for new Naethirglyph quest.

 

Zank stared at the username. Everstorm? The Claire Everstorm? He wasn't sure why he should be so surprised. A player like that, it was no surprise she was getting straight into the action on release day. Although they were not friends, he had encountered Claire on occasion. He'd bought some things from her on the Auction House. He'd also encountered her numerous times out on the field, just in passing though. He supposed he might have grouped with her in raids if he was more involved in that sort of thing. He was almost exclusively a ranked PvP player. Regardless he would have to have lived under a rock to not know of Claire. If there was anyone more reliable to group with, he did not know them. 

 

<Killerbytes> Everstorm? I'll group. Melee DPS. 

 

He waited. A few minutes passed and nothing happened. Maybe she was AFK. Or perhaps she had already found a party. She was certainly popular enough. Before long his comment had disappeared from the chat as player after player begged to join a group with the legendary Everstorm. Zank sighed. Oh well, back to the drawing board. He checked his LFG tab once more and looked through the list. Finally he came across something interesting. 

 

"Demon Archer?" He said out loud. It was an interesting class. He had to admit he was always keen on rare builds. He wasn't sure how this one worked though, it certainly wasn't mainstream. He assumed with a word like 'demon' it was probably someone who used Infernal spells like him, but that wasn't neccesarily the case. He decided to dive in. 

 

<Killerbytes> Are you doing Naethirglyph main quest? Need DPS?

<LadyShadowGloom> Yea, it's just me right now, know anyone else to tag along that isn't a moron?

 

Zank couldn't help but smirk. It seemed that the Demon Archer was a little blunt. Not a trait that bothered him overly, at least she seemed confident. 

 

<Killerbytes> I tried messaging Everstorm. She's definitely useful. Trouble is she's quite popular. Haven't heard anything back yet.

<LadyShadowGloom>  I'll keep my eyes peeled for promising prospects. Hopefully she gets to you soon, I'm getting restless sitting around here! I think we could manage with the three of us though.

<Killerbytes> Everstorm's an Ascended Cronomancer. Tough build but they say she's the best. I think we should manage. As long as you can walk the walk. 

<LadyShadowGloom> Hah! Funny, we'll see who can walk the walk.

<Killerbytes> Alright. I'm in Market Square. Group up and come find me. 

 

There was a brief pause and then a sudden rushing feeling. The thumping surge in Zank's chest caght him off guard. It was a strange sensation, the kind of feeling when you connect with someone new. Then he realised what it was as the group request prompt flashed in front of his face. He tapped on yes and the sensation faded. Eve's location appeared on his minimap, and he could see she was on the move. Now all he had to do was find their third. He still had no response from Claire. He opened the local chat window again to try his luck. 

 

<Killerbytes> Anyone for Naethirglyph Main Quest? 

<BoyLoveFabulous> LF RP partner. BL, obviously. ;)

<VanillaIceCreamed> GAY

<BoyLoveFabulous> How observant, love. You interested?

<VanillaIceCreamed> NO

<PantsuTank119> Yeah I'll go, Killerbytes. 

<Nephilomnomnom> I thought you were going to boost me!?

<PantsuTank119> But you keep dying >__<

<Nephilomnomnom> Thats cus you suck at boosting!

<HotBlooded360> We told you to stay back and let us handle the trash. You didn't listen. 

<Nephilomnomnom> What so I can't even fight!?

<PewPewBiriBiri> That's kinda the point. 

 

Zank closed the screen down. This was why he didn't like PvE. People were idiots. He looked to his minimap to see that Eve was apparently in the Market Square now. He moved through the players around him, making his way to her location. When he finally clocked her in the crowd he paused for a moment. Her armour was barely armour at all. He quickly checked her stats, it seemed despite appearances it was top notch. He could see other players ogling her. How could you get a rod on for pixels? He shook his head and made his way towards her. 

 

"Nothing yet." he said to her as he approached. "The chat is madness. I'm staying the hell out of it." Zank looked around the square, unsure what to do. That was when he clocked her. Claire Everstorm. She was in the Market Square, only a few metres from them. He nodded for Eve to follow and approached her, pushing his way through the crowd. He tapped Claire on the shoulder. 

 

"Hey." he said. "Have you found a group yet?"

"No, not yet. Are you doing the King's quest too?" Claire responded. Finally. 

"Yeah. If you join us we should be able to handle it with just the three of us." Zank said, turning his head to motion to Eve. "She says she's good. I'm inclined to believe her."

"Two DPSes and a support? I think we're safer off finding a tank at least, don't you think?" 

"Not confident against a few infernals?" Eve teased.

"There is a difference between confidence and foolishness," Claire replied with a twinkle in her eye.

"Where's the fun if there's no challenge? If you're bent on a tank, you're the popular one. I'm sure you've got plenty of people who will come at your call."

 

Zank thought about it. If Eve was a good archer, she'd have no problem kiting, especially if Claire laid down some decent slows. As for himself, well, he was used to fighting single targets. No doubt he'd end up building a lot of aggro, so that was a risk. "Hmm. Maybe a tank is safer." he said finally. He invited Claire to their party and resigned himself to entering the open chat once more. 

 

<Killerbytes> Need tank for Naethirglyph King's Quest. 

<Killerbytes> Claire Everstorm is in our party. 

<TankNSpank> ME

<PantsuTank119> I'll do it!

<Nephilomnomnom> HEY! Stop ditching me!

<MCHammerTank> Those guys are nubs. Take me. 

<Atross19> I main tanked 25 man Abyss Rider for Madhattan Project guild. 

 

Zank smirked. Madhattan Project were one of the top raiding guilds pre-expansion. He opened his LFG window and invited Atross to the party. 

"There, a tank." he said to the group. "Can we go now?"

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Claire had been sitting on the rock for the good half of an hour, idly fiddling around with the user interface as she lazily scrolled through her Friends List, looking for suitable players who could possibly help her out in this new level 85 quest. There were plenty of lower-leveled players online currently, but either by some stroke of extreme misfortune or some kind of nefarious plan, next to none of her usual max-level party mates showed up as In-Game. It was frustrating that she'd have to get to know a completely new group of players and get used to their skill builds and strategies before she could get into properly questing once more.

 

It was then that she felt a tap on her shoulder. Knocked out of her personal reverie, she looked up into the face of Killerbytes, renowned as one of the strongest PvP players in the leagues. He was commonly referred to as "Zank" by his friends, based on the knowledge that she had gathered about him, and held the title of Champion of 1v1 PvP League (48th season). Claire was surprised when he asked her to join with him and his newfound partner in undergoing King Athrein's new quest.

 

Speaking of his partner, LadyShadowGloom wasn't that familiar a face. Commonly going by the name "Eve", Claire remembered hearing of her name a few times before, regarding her bad attitude towards players who harassed her, but then again, it was understandable. She found her gaze lingering for one second too long on Eve's scantily-clad body, before redirecting her attention to Zank.

 

No doubt that both of them were level 85, but having a Feyblade and a Demon Archer as teammates didn't exactly strike confidence in Claire. Sure, Zank could probably cut things down pretty fast, but there was a reason why people tended to fare differently between PvP and PvE. She suspected that Eve possessed some powerful pets that she could summon in a pinch, but she highly doubted that they could replace the role of a full tank. As such, she felt grateful when Atross19, one of the more well-known tanks of the Madhatten Project guild, joined their little party and completed the group (even though Zank had used her name to get him in).

 

Her mind immediately began to work, thinking of the numerous possibilities that could occur in the upcoming quest. "Alright, I'm sure every one of you knows how to operate your own class the best," she began to explain, "But this is a new quest and we don't know what is going to happen. I'm sure none of us will want to risk the death penalty of EXP loss at this point of time, especially considering that there are 15 more levels to go with the new expansion. Therefore I hope that we can work together to cover each other's weaknesses and get through this as a team."

 

Now that the Stellar Gates were down, there wasn't a convenient way to fast-travel to the quest area anymore. Claire scrolled through her inventory list and fished out a golden whistle, a quest reward that allowed her to summon a pegasus as a mount. Normally it was just to show-off to others, but with the fast travel system down, the pegasus could turn out to be quite useful after all. She cast one last glance at her three team members, flashing them a warm smile. "Shall we go?"

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With their group of stranger's organized and ready to go they headed outside of town where Claire whistled for her Pegasus, the regal horse landing before them with its magnificent wing spans, gently letting them fall to relax at its side. She mounted, and as she did Eve withdrew the summoning orb for her black dragon, a small eye it appeared to be, reptilian in design. The feel of magic was so very curious, the strange tingle that slithered up her spine, the hot sensation it caused where the spell was being cast, currently that was her palm. The black eye lifted only centimeters from the soft bed of her hand, lightly covered in the thin leather of her glove. It glowed with the virtual magic, shedding off the fel-green color that the rest of her body shared. Eve dropped the eye suddenly and it quickly spewed into wicked lashes of demonic green magic, the shadow dragon spawning, the many pixels shifting to take the shape of her beloved Charon. It rose onto its hind legs, stretching its wings out like a bird and growling viciously before coming back to the ground, lowering its neck to offer the saddle to Eve. A portal opened to the side of the dragon and from it came the two shadow vendors, their whispery voices coming through as if they had been talking to each other from the other side of the portal. Their glowing lilac eyes shimmered in Eve's direction offering her a half bow as they bid her good day before climbing onto the side saddles on the dragon's flanks. 

 

"Anyone want a ride?" Eve offered. 

 

Atross eyed her glorious Charon enviously, "Only ever seen pictures of him on the internet. I'll take up that offer." 

 

Eve commanded the shadow vendors away; "I have no need of your services at this time." The Shadow figures seemed almost disappointed as their mistress dismissed them; still they showed her respect in saying their farewells to 'Mistress Eve.' Eve chuckled, feeling a little embarrassed at the way they spoke to her in front of her new companions, trying to hide her slight she spoke, "They make me sound like a dominatrix!" But her loud exclamation only made her feel more embarrassed and the slightest tint blossomed across her character's cheeks. Atross' bemused expression told her something was off and she quickly spun away from him and mounted Charon. With a simple command a reflection of her character appeared before her, showing the slight darkening from Eve's dusty purple cheeks beginning to fade. Since when is the game THAT responsive to its player's emotions? It was normal for the player's happiness and anger to show through, but to visibly show her embarrassment was ridiculous!

 

Atop Charon she pulled the magnificent dragon into the air, the gusts from his wings causing a physical reaction in the world around them, whipping up dirt and blowing grass sideways, even making some of the skinnier trees sway. “Hang on!†Eve teased even though it was impossible for players to simple fall off a mount; they had to make the conscious decision to ‘dismount.’

 

Set to auto fly she opened up her quest log and popped on her quest tracker to get a more exact travel route. The tracker felt like a tingle in one’s head, causing a satisfying feeling when heading the correct way, when veering off it would slowly become more and more annoying.

 

Before long they came upon felwood, the area was colored much the way Eve’s character was with the corrupted green color hissing off much of the supposed-to-be-greenery but was actually black and brown. Eve flew low to the ground, skimming over the mobs head before she found a safe spot to land as close to the quest location as possible.

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Not to be outdone, Zank raised his gauntlet-equipped hand and twisted his wrist violently as he clenched his fist, making to motion of tearing something up from the ground. Underneath him the ground began to blacken and spew out dark energy. The energy was known to many in the game as corruption, the sign of Infernal Magic normally associated with endgame enemies from pre-expansion gameplay. Thanks to an endgame artefact known as Mark of the Infernal Slayer, he was able to utilise this brand of magic. That single rare drop had completely changed his class build, and given him an edge in PvP matches. However it also offered other perks, such as the one he was performing. 

 

The creeping shadow began to grow and take shape around him, he rose off of the ground as the shadows took his weight across their forms. Then as the mass reached it's limit, a yellow glow began to move through the dark form, like cracks in a wall. Slowly but surely the darkness was forced to take form, the yellow light of corruption bringing forth the shape of a winged drake with glowing yellow eyes made from the same energy that formed the cracks through the darkness. From what Zank understood, in the lore of the game, all Infernal creatures were born of corruption in a manner similar to this. To demonstrate this to players, the Mark of the Infernal Slayer came with a mount summoning ability. 

 

The Infernal Drake grunted softly and padded around on the ground as Zank steered it's direction, making sure he was comfortable controlling it. He turned to his team mates, the dark energy cascading around his form. Claire had summoned her Pegasus, and Eve had summoned her own wyvern, which Atross had decided to ride shotgun on. It appeared they were all set to go, and as if to solidify this notion, Eve took off into the skies with Atross, and then Claire followed closely behind her. Zank gave the Infernal Drake a soft kick with his heels and the creature reared and took off into the sky, tearing after the others. 

 

 


 

 

The Felwood. It had been a long time since Zank had visited this area. It was years ago, back in his early days of playing A:O. The group descended down over the foul, black forest with it's toxic green aura, passing softly through the gaps between the trees and finally landing along one of the paved roads through the wood. As Zank's drake touched the ground it immediately began to collapse and disappear, fading back in to the ground beneath them. He looked around at the area, trying to get his bearings. 

 

According to his interface the area was still for low level players. Aeiluna Online implemented a difficulty scaling factor within the game. In low level, even high level players had their stats artificially reduced to the level of the area. In theory this would mean that players would be provided with a challenge wherever they went. However there was a flaw in this construction. 

 

A Direwolf shot out from the forest, attempting to ambush the party. Zank found himself closest, and as the creature advanced his short sword, Naegling, appeared in his hand. The wolf pounced into the air, lunging for his throat. However it came nowhere close. With a single, swift movement Zank cut the creature down. The wolf shattered mid-air into a burst of pixels, before fading out of existence. Zank shook his head, disappointed. The flaw in the scaling system was Legendary Gear. While the base stats of players was greatly reduced, their gear's stats were not. This meant that high level players still had a huge power advantage on low level areas, often killing enemies in one shot. 

 

"Well that was a bit boring." Atross was the first to speak. He moved ahead of Zank, taking lead of the party. It was typical of Tank players to have that kind of attitude. Of course there was complaint from Zank, it was Atross' duty to lead the charge, to shout the loudest and seek all the attention. That way Zank could move freely between enemies without interruption, and Eve could provide valuable ranged to clear out the creatures Zank missed. New players often assumed that Tanks were the de-facto leaders of raids and parties, however, this was not often this case. 

 

Zank turned back to Claire who seemed to be assessing her interface for a moment. Claire Everstorm was undoubtedly the one in charge when it came to combat. Her revered status was not because she was a powerful offensive mage who rained hell down upon her enemies. Nor was she a simple support class. The Chronomancer was a notoriously difficult build, but Claire had improved on it further, forming the "Ascended" version of the build. Impressive as that was, more so was her success streak with the vanilla version of the game. She was not simply a brilliant tactician, but a trailblazer, who set the standard for others who emerged after her. 

 

However here the legend stood, entirely unimposing. She seemed cheerful, polite and approachable. Clearly the fame hadn't gotten to her head. This was the reason Zank was happy to group with her. He had meant plenty of legends in the arena. He had bested many of them. The overconfident players were always quick to fall from grace. Zank shook his head, now was not the time to dwell. "This is where the traveller caravans go through Felwood. In vanilla the caravan guards were high enough level to deal with stray fel creatures. So the Infernals that have showed up are clearly high level. If we find the Infernals we find the cave. 

 

Zank walked off of the path and ascended up a short hill rising up from the side. The minimap was no use at the moment. Since the expansion the map of this area had been reset to account for the environmental changes. As such they would need to explore in order to unlock the map view again. However logic was also a part of this game. "If you're planning an ambush, this hill gives you a decent vantage point. Also the Corrupted Mountain is this way. It doesn't take a genius to work out that the Infernals must have a route to the Felwood through some underground caverns. Let's move this way."

 

Anyone who had played endgame knew about Corrupted Mountain. It was a small map area for level 85's that required a flying mount to reach the entrance. It was exclusively for endgame 25 man raid content. According to the lore, Kazul The Infernal King called the mluntain his home. The 25 man raid followed the siege of the mountain and the eventual defeat of Kazul, who was the raid's end boss. To start the new expansion with Infernals didn't seem all that surprising. The previous top tier enemies had become the scuttling filth that they would inevitably have to clear away in order to reach whatever the real threat was. This was how they would introduce new creatures of higher difficulty for them to fight. 

 

Zank's class allowed him to take 50% damage reduction from Infernal spells. This was a handy effect for his first venture back into PvE. If this Tank screwed up at least he would be able to hold his own to some degree. 

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"A bully?" The Player Killer repeated, smirking, "You really think i'm a bully?" The player walked away from the entrance of the dungeon and circled the room, examining Raven cautiously, "Longsword. Grimoire. What are you? Some kind of... spellsword..." He muttered, frowning, but readying his daggers to attack. Raven lifted his grimoire and opened the book to the right page, ready for the battle and gripped his longsword firmly.
"Something like that." He replied. Raven couldn't stand players like this. People who liked to sneak up on others and kill them, players who were a much higher level than others and enjoyed preying on them for no other reason than to get some kind of sick pleasure out of taunting them, griefing them. "You really shouldn't have done that..." He added, raising his sword.

 

"Tsh, you really going to stop me?" The PKer pointed at his purple cloth gear, "I wear the lightest armour so that I get the maximum bonuses from my damage, I stack it with critical hit chance and damage, and funnel all my stats into attack. One hit and you'll be dead." The man laughed.

"Who said I was going to fight you?" Raven smiled, and quickly leapt back, slamming his hand onto the pages of his grimoire. The Player Killer snarled but even as he took his first steps, launching himself into a sprint towards his target, the grimoire had begun to glow. "Summoning Arte: Army of Undead!" A loud crash echoed through the dungeon and the stones below their feet began to break apart as arms shot out from between the cracks.
"Dammit!" The purple-clothed man yelped, as he tried to dodge the arms of the undead, but with every fleeting step he took, the undead were pulling themselves further and further out of the ground, and before he'd even made it halfway towards Raven, he was swamped.

Slashing back and forth, he began expending his energy. Every time one of the weak, but numerous enemies launched itself at him, moaning and seeking a spare bit of flesh to attack, the Player Killer was forced to attack defensively or lose what little health he had. "Shit!" He cursed, taking down another of the undead. One of them grabbed him by the leg from behind and he cut it down, only to have another grab one of his arms, and then another grabbed his other free hand. They began to pull him down, but he wasn't done yet. He summoned up his last remaining energy and in a single, quick whirlwind of dagger attacks, teleported between the various enemies, cutting them down one after another. 

He finally stopped, grinning at his victory over the numerous summons. "There, now it's your turn!" The Player Killer smirked, and stepped forwards only to frown. A look of sheer panic spread across his face as Raven flew towards the Player Killer. The man raised his daggers to defend himself but in a single swipe, Raven sliced the man's arms from his body and then impaled him through the chest. The man's health reduced to zero, and seconds after his vanishing arms, his body exploded into pixels leaving nothing behind. "Yes! YES!! Haha!" Raven stomped on the ground, "Y'see?!" He shouted, laughing. He whirled his sword like he was some kind of JRPG character but mid-whirl, dropped it like a fool. "Oh damn." He muttered, bending over to pick it up and then sheepishly slotting it into the sheathe on his back.

 

"Aaah... that's better." Raven said, smiling at the sun. The dungeon had been far too dark, he preferred the more beautiful areas. Now then, he thought to himself, time to look for a good quest to get properly levelled. Raven walked forwards onto the path, making sure he had a clear space and that none of the floating islands of the area he was in were going to come dangerously close as he mounted up. He paused a moment, accessing his menu and selecting his summon. He had been lucky to find it on a mob that had only spawned once since the start of the game. A 'server first' mount, that he snatched up while other players were more concerned with questing, raiding or PvP. A black feather appeared in front of him and then in an explosion of feathers, there stood a giant raven.

The mount cawed as he leapt onto the saddle on it's back but as he grabbed the reins to take off, he heard a voice. "Excuse me!!" It called. Raven turned to see what he thought was a player at first, but then he quickly realised it was an NPC. "Excuse me!!" The NPC repeated. It was holding a small scroll.
"Uh..." Raven looked around, but the NPC was running right up towards him, "... me?" He pointed at himself with a look of surprise. 
"Sir Raven, a missive from the King!" The NPC handed him the scroll and as he opened it, the NPC read aloud the text he was staring at. "The King requires you to attend to a terrible threat, present in the Felwoods at this very moment!" 

 

Raven frowned and looked from the open scroll to the NPC, "Sir Raven?" He muttered, chuckling lightly. "What is this? Since when did NPC's hunt down players for quests?" He asked, but the NPC just stared back at him. "... oh, fine. One place is as good as any." He threw the scroll back at the NPC and the giant raven kicked off from the ground.

As he flew through the skies of the virtual world, he checked his distance. He was only a zone or two away from Felwood, but it would be faster to portal there, as he'd been there before. He opened his menu as the raven hovered for a moment, soaring through the air. However, checking his menu, the option to portal wasn't present. Raven frowned, touching his thumbnail to his lips and starting to chew on it, "Humm..." He thought for a few moments and then decided he could always do the quest later, maybe he'd get something to eat. He immediately moved to the 'log out' option and hovered over it, but hesitated. Thinking about it, he could probably just get a snack later on, he didn't want to drop too far behind in level. If he dropped in level, then he wouldn't be able to protect the players if gankers tried out-levelling him. Logging out would have to wait. He came out of the window, took hold of the reins in both hands, and flew on.

 

The Felwood was a dark and foreboding place, as he soared overhead the map slowly uncovered, area by area. He was going to fly straight for the quest signal, but noticed a group chatting below. There was several of them, and they were definitely grouped together. Their player icons shared the same colour. It was dangerous for him, as a single player, to land in front of a possibly hostile group, but he figured he could always remain mounted until he joined them, if the option was open. He aimed his mount towards the ground and swooped in, landing just a few feet away from them.
"Hey there!" Raven waved to the group, "What are you guys doing?" He smiled at them, putting one hand on his hips while the other firmly held onto the reins of his mount.

 

"The main quest for the new expansion." Zank replied simply. "Is... is that a server-first mount?"
"Oh..." Raven looked down at his mount and then grinned back at Zank, "Yeah. Haha. It's not like I tried to farm it, I just got lucky, y'know?" He replied, then put one hand behind his head, scratching his hair, "Ah, I didn't used to be called Raven, but I figured it fit the mount. Haha."

"Alright." Zank replied. "So, are you looking for a group or something?"
"Sure!" Raven nodded, getting off his mount and walking up to them while it disappeared behind him, "I'm up for that!" Raven grinned, nodding to the other members of the group as he accepted the party invite. "What now?" He asked, raising an eyebrow quizzically.

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Hiro frowned as he examined the charred corpse -- while he was primarily in the game to clear out dungeons, he'd seen his fair share of player kills -- often in self defense against glory hounds seeking to off one of the game's more prominent players. This guy might even had succeeded if not for Orson, who'd provided the opening he needed to fire. Something seemed very, very wrong about this, though.

"Usually, players don't gib like this. They just... Sorta go 'poof'." he observed, prodding the corpse with his boot. The smell was astoundingly repulsive -- he wouldn't be eating bacon for a good long time after this.

"Could be a new feature," Orson pointed out.

"I doubt it, personally. This isn't just one of those old school computer games, where the only feedback you get is sound and pixels on a screen; this is a full immersion, almost like real life, but with fireballs. They put in that 'poof' thing because alpha playtesters started showing symptoms of PTSD after spending too long in PVP arenas." He knew that first hand; he'd been there, once. There was good reason why he spent his time on PvE adventuring.

"So we've shell-shocked some poor sod. Real heroes, we are." Orson mused.

"Or worse," Hiro replied. "Something tells me that there's something very amiss with this whole situation. Ever heard of one of those stories where people get trapped in computer games where 'Game Over' equals death?"

"You mean the sort of wish fulfillment fantasy where the uber-nerd gets all the girls because the one thing he's good at suddenly becomes a matter of life and death?"

"Take this a little more seriously, Orson. We've got to get to the bottom of this." Hiro said reproachfully.

"This dungeon's a tower. It goes upwards." he replied without batting an eyelash.

"Completely missing the point, much?"

"On the contrary, you're missing the point. Sweet, sweet loot awaits us on the higher floors; there is no time to debate the fate of some asshole who tried to murder you."

"Come to think of it... you have a point. But hold on for a bit; my pizza's probably here by now."

"Wait. Hold on a moment... You mean the legendary Hiro actually logs out to eat?!" Orson gasped in surprise. Hiro decided to ignore him, and flicked open the menu, searching for the logout button.

It was gone.

Welp. This has just gone totally pear-shaped.

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Finally the group made it's way over the hill and found itself in a small clearing, leading towards a rocky cave that lead deep into the earth beneath them. Zank approached it carefully, making sure not to tread to closely at first. There was likely an event trigger around the area in front of the cave. Adventurers crossing it's path would like instigate an ambush from the enemy or perhaps a story event. It was important to be prepared for such things. Zank summoned Naegling into his hand and turned back towards the rest of the group. 

 

"You guys ready?" He asked. 

 

"Sec..." Atross said absent mindedly as he focused on his interface for a moment. Then he turned back to Zank. "Alright I'm all set." he said finally. The rest of the group looked ready. Zank glanced to Claire, but she did not seem to challenge the decision to move on, and so they did. Atross moved ahead of Zank and took the first steps towards the cave. Sure enough as he passed into the clearing, clear indications of activity began to happen. There was a scuffling, crunching noise as something came crawling up from inside the cave. The creatures that emerged were as expected. Infernals. 

 

The first to emerge were two tall, lanky figures. They appeared humanoid, but they consisted of a black shadowy matter that barely had any form, except for the yellow veins of corruptions coursing over their bodies. Their eyes were glowing faintly, like distant lights in a dark fog, and their faces were blank and expressionless. Behind them was a much larger creature, bounding on all fours, but made of the same dark mist that it's fellows were made of, with the same corrupted vein texture. However this beast looked far more imposing, with a large, gnashing maw and cold, dead orbs for eyes. 

 

"Two Shadow Phantasms, one Corrupted Felboar." Zank heard Claire announce from behind him. "Snare the Felboar, Atross aggro the Phantasms."

 

Energy appeared around the floor under the Felboar, and suddenly vines shot up out of the ground, coiling and rapping around the creatures form and stopping it from advancing. However it was already beginning to break free. They had 5 seconds max. One of the Phantasms had pulled off and was making a bee-line for Zank. He held his sword in front of him and prepared to fight. 

"Hey ugly! I'm your opponent!" Atross roared. Suddenly the attention of the Phantasms shifted, and the both made for Atross as he activated his taunt ability. 3 seconds left. Zank sprung into action, he went at a sprint, feeling his speed increase as he made his move, no doubt Claire's doing. 

 

As he rounded on Atross' location his sword took on the same corrupted veins that were seen on infernals as he activated his weapon enchantment, Infernal Taint. This provided his sword with a damage over time debuff. Atross was holding back the assault on the two Phantasms with his shield, as they hammered into him using their large claws. 1 second left. With lightning speed Zank cut through the torso of the first and then brought his blade up through the chest of the second. Neither were down but both were inflicted with his weapon's debuff. 

 

Finally the Felboar broke free from it's restraints and thundered forwards with a terrifying roar. Zank felt a chill over his body, and found himself rooted to the spot. Terror Cry, all adventurers in the area are rooted for 3 seconds. The Felboar was moving for Claire, her snare must have made her the main source of threat for the beast. However a barrage of arrows whipped through the air, slowing it down to a mere crawl. At least Eve was as good as she said she was. 

 

Zank activated Shadow Pact, spending half of his total corruption in order to break out of the snare trap early. He made for the Phantasms again. His Infernal Taint had helped cut their health down, but there was still a ways to go. Eve and Raven would be occupied kiting the Felboar and keeping it off of Claire. It was up to him and Atross to deal with the Phantasms. He leapt into the air, descending on one of the Phantasms. "Dark Drive!" he called as he brought his blade down through the Phantasm's back, causing a burst of dark energy to burst out from it and infect the other Phantasm. Dark drive combined base attack damage with additional spell damage which was then spread out 5 yards in each direction, dealing damage to the other Phantasm. 

 

"Call of the Crusader!" Atross called, activating his own strength buff, before bringing his large axe down on the nearest Phantasm, which shattered into a shower of pixels. Zank wasted no time, lunging towards the remaining Phantasm, cutting through it's torso, destroying it, and advancing straight through it, towards the Felboar, extending out his free hand. "Infernal Shackles!" he yelled, as black chains rose out of the earth, once again binding the boar, stopping it from moving. 

 

"This is it!" Claire declared across the battlefield as she casted an area offensive buff. "Full offensive while it's immobilized!"

"Crusader's Charge!" Atross yelled as he shot across the gap in a sudden burst of speed, cutting across the Felboar with his axe, while a hail of arrows hammered into the creature's flank. Meanwhile Raven suddenly closed the distance in an instant with a teleport spell before joining the assault. Zank held out his arm. The corruption had spread up the length of his arms, an effect of using his spells too much over time. However the fight was almost over, he could afford to use some more. 

 

With a sudden burst of speed he leapt into the air, flipping up and over the Felboar, so that he was directly above it. 

"Dark Successor!" He called, activating his gear set bonus ability, which guaranteed critical strikes for the next 5 seconds. "Unholy Impaler!" he called again as he brought his blade down straight on top of the Felboar, driving it straight through it's back, causing an internal burst of Infernal spell damage, each wave dealing critical damage, before finally, the creature exploded in a shower of pixels. 

 

With the threat gone Zank allowed his blade to disappear from his hand. He sighed at the rather disappointing exp gain. For all the effort it was only three enemies they had slain. That being said, Phantasms were only ever present in the final raiding area of Aeiluna Online before the expansion. He hadn't expected them to be the first enemy he would face in the main quest. He turned to his companions and nodded to the cave entrance, keen to move on. However it wasn't over, apparently, as something else moved slowly up from the entrance. 

 

Striding with purpose, covered in black obsidian armour, complete with a black helm that looked like a horrific demonic creature. The dark aura of the Infernals oozed out from the towering black knight, who stood taller than any ordinary man. Zank's eyes widened. There was no way that could be who he thought it was. 

"Holy shit!" Atross cried in excitement, "That's Ezruik The Jailer! He got killed in The Sacking of Kazul's Citadel! I can't believe they've brought him back!"

 

"I'd back off if I were you..." Zank replied hesitantly, slowly stepping back from the clearing. They were in no way prepared to take on a Raid Boss character with such a small group. This didn't make any sense. 

"Relax!" Atross shrugged. "This has to be a quest event. There's no way he'll hurt us." he assured confidently. Maybe he was right. It was common to have plot driven events occur to add substance to the game. During these events players couldn't be killed. However, the game wasn't like before. All the NPC's and quest givers were acting much more realistically. Like they were conscious of the players actions. 

 

"What's up big guy?" Atross asked Ezruik as he swaggered up the the giant. "How come you're not dead?"

"Silence!" Ezruik growled, thrusting out his hand at Atross, summoning a set of infernal chains that wrapped around Atross' throat, dragging him towards Ezruik, who held him aloft by his head. Then, with a sickening crunch, he crushed Atross' skull with his bare hands, sending the player into oblivion with a shower of pixels. Zank sighed and shook his head. "Idiot..."

 

Ezruik reacted less violently to the others. They had responded in the correct way, with fear and hesitation. If the lore was to be considered real, no man would ever dare to taunt Ezruik the Jailer. He was the feared right hand man of Kazul, The Infernal King. His presence was surely here to excite the players, and foreshadow an exciting quest line ahead. Ezruik eyed each of them warily and then turned around, heading back inside the cave. 

 

"Try your luck, heroes!" He taunted, "You will lose yourself inside the Catacombs..."

 

And then he was gone. Zank shook his head again and turned to the others. 

"Well, I guess we just wait for him to respawn." Zank suggested. He opened his interface and checked the party status screen. Everyone was marked as online. However a skull icon hovered over Atross. He wasn't marked as offline or online either. Just the skull. 

"Hmm." Zank said after a moment. They had received no word from Atross. He tried the party chat. 

 

<Killerbytes> Atross? You coming back?

<SytemInfo> Atross19 has been defeated. 

<Killerbytes> Right. Do you need a rez?

<SystemInfo> Atross19 has been defeated. 

 

"I'm not sure what's going on..." Zank said to the group. "I can't reach him. Maybe he's disconnected or something. If he doesn't get back soon I might bail. We'll be sitting ducks without a tank."

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“That can’t be right.†Despite his skepticism the grayed out ‘Log Out’ button staring him straight in the face was more than enough evidence for anyone to conclude that logging out of the game is temporarily impossible. In the past something like this was easily solved by pressing Alt+F4 to force the game into shutting down, but forcing a shutdown on a game that is connected to one’s mind is a recipe for disaster. Suddenly Hiro’s mention of a Death Game that he had dismissed mere seconds ago resonated with him.

“I’ll try and contact a GM.†Orson opened his friend list. Being one of the most popular players in the game had its perks, getting well acquainted with the game’s GMs was one of them. Many of them had normal Player accounts to play on when they weren’t on duty and Orson figured it would probably be a lot easier to reach one of them through a normal whisper than through a GM ticket.

…

<CitizenKane> Alex, got a minute?

<RuinedPrince> Hey, Orson. I thought you’d be busy racing to 100!

<Citizen Kane> More importantly, the log out button has been disabled.

<RuinedPrince> That can’t be right.

<Citizen Kane> Heh.

<RuinedPrince> Holy shit, you’re right!

<Citizen Kane> I always am.

<RuinedPrince> I’ll see if I can figure out what is wrong. I’ll get back to you.

…

Orson closed his UI and noticed Hiro still examining the puddle left behind by the Player Killer they had offed minutes ago. “I don’t understand, Orson. Something bad is going on.â€

The weird death animation when the Player Killer got gibbed combined with the disabled log out button had obviously taken its toll on Hiro. Normally Orson would’ve scoffed and berated him, but even he wasn’t immune to a bit of distress when something as peculiar as this was going on. “Let’s stop wasting time, Hiro. Even if something is going on there isn’t much we can do here. The GM I contacted will whisper me back as soon as he has more info.â€

Orson turned around and headed towards the stairs leading to the next floor. “We should probably warn the guys in the guild.†Orson stopped and wondered why he hadn’t thought of that sooner. Normally that would’ve been the first thing he did. The entire ordeal must have been getting to him more than he thought. He opened his chat interface to send a message to his guild members who had been discussing the various new features. As expected none of them had tried to log out yet, since there was no mention of a missing log out button.

…

<Citizen Kane> Guys, something is going on. The log out button is disabled and Hiro and I just killed a Player Killer who left a really weird death animation.

YOU HAVE RECEIVED A MESSAGE FROM RUINEDPRINCE

<RuinedPrince> Dude… no one knows what is going on. Apparently they have also been a ton of reports of people not respawning after dying.

<Citizen Kane> …What the fuck?

<RuinedPrince> Yeah. If I find out more I’ll let you know, but be careful.

…

Orson didn’t know what to say when Hiro looked at him expecting an answer. “Y… You may be right. We’re trapped in a Death Game.â€

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Claire frowned as her fingers rapidly danced across the player's HUD that appeared before her, trying to figure out what had gone wrong with the situation. Indeed, it was just as Zank had said - no respawn timer could be seen over Atross's username, only a skull icon that looked oddly menacing despite its tiny size. What... could this mean? She had not taken any resurrection spells as a support, mainly because she usually left it to the other, more conventional healers to do the dirty work. Her job was to oversee the battle, to ensure that everything goes according to plan. And this was not according to plan.

 

It was then that she noticed the flashing notification at the bottom right of her HUD, indicating that she had received over 300 messages since she last checked. Now that they were in a safe room, she figured it would be okay to give them a quick scan through. But as she scrolled down through the list of messages, a shiver began to run up her spine...

 

<2gud4u> everstrom, where's d logout button?

<ButterFingers> A friend of mine hasn't respawned for thirty minutes now. Do you know anything about this?

<flameswordsman876> wtf whats happening

<ireliaLoL55> My revival spells aren't working!

 

A theory had already begun forming in her head as she analyzed all possible explanations for what was going on, but the messages only got more and more distressing as she continued to scroll down.

 

<fairytalegirl> So much blood! If this is the new death animation, I hate it!

<SpaceRandy> I need to get my paper out by tomorrow! Why can't I log out?!

<MudaMudaMuda> LET ME OUT LET ME OUT LET ME OUT

<Friendlyknight> don't die, everstorm! something's going on

 

She closed her eyes, trying to gather her thoughts. The logout button had vanished on her HUD as well, affirming what everyone else was saying. Coupled with the strange behavior of Atross's death... Claire came to a very chilling conclusion - that the developers of this game had trapped them in a Death Game. "Nobody move from this room!" She commanded, to the surprise of her teammates. "There is something very strange going on with the game. I don't think we should continue with this quest."

 

Claire decided to contact a GM directly to get answers. Many of the GMs knew her by her reputation alone, and she had several of them on her Friends List. She opened up a private chat with one of them.

 

<Everstorm85> Hey Alex!

<RuinedPrince> Claire! Where are you now?

<Everstorm85> I'm doing the new Naethirglyph quest. Wanted to ask you something regarding the patch...

<RuinedPrince> Get out of there now.

<RuinedPrince> Do not fight any of the new expansion monsters.

<Everstorm85> Why? What's happening?

<RuinedPrince> There's something wrong with the game. Lots of people are not respawning after dying. It's better not to take any chances until we figure out the problem on our side.

<Everstorm85> Okay, keep me updated.

 

She closed the chat with a heavy hand, slowly looking up at the faces of her party members. "I just spoke to [GM] RuinedPrince. I think... we may be stuck in a Death Game."

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"Y...You may be right. We might be trapped in a Death Game." Orson's words echoed in the still silence of the Naethir vault they stood within.

 

A Death Game. That certainly put a damper on his plans -- his pizza was getting cold, he'd miss the dental appointment on Friday, his mom's birthday was two weeks later and he'd probably be unable to get a present... Oh, and he might just get horribly mind-raped out of existence if some virtual-reality illusion managed to hit him hard enough. Yes, skewed priorities, but he just couldn't dwell on the enormity of the cluster fuck he'd just descended blindly into. He had to sweat the small stuff or go insane trying.

 

"Well, the logical thing to do would be to get the hell out of this dungeon, run screaming all the way to Newbieland and cower there until the next patch hits and we can all log out again." Hiro said. "In fact, I'm going to do that, like, right now."

 

"Can't really argue with that logic," Orson remarked, "But do you really think we were trapped in here by accident?"

 

"You're saying... we got fucked over. That we've been locked in this game not by negligence but by design." Hiro said, his face starting to turn pale. His hands quivered, and he clenched his two wands tightly, their weight small but reassuring to him. If this was a Death Game, at least he had the fortune of having a head start.

 

"I'm suspecting as much. You can't really make a programming snafu so bad it turns your game into Gamer Holocaust -- Play Closed Beta for Free, can you? Sooner or later, some mysterious dude is going to show up and declare that we must defeat the final raid boss to go home." Orson said resolutely. 

 

"That sounds likely, but I'd rather wait until someone tells us if we can escape instead of going on some snipe hunt for a way out that might not even be there." Hiro said, before accessing his inventory with a couple of finger swipes and pulling out a dusty scroll, which materialized in his hands in a mist of bluish light. He opened the scroll and rapped the glyph inscribed upon it with his finger, causing it to crumble into motes of light, which then swirled around and coalesced into the shape of an oval portal, through which the familiar streets of Throndulin could be seen. "I'm gonna bail. Wait it out in a safe zone until I'm sure what's going on. You coming?"

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