The once populated city of Dormi was almost like a ghost town. What used to be a modern city bustling with activity became a desolate and quiet aggregation of concrete buildings, much like many of the cities nowadays. Majority of the people chose to move to artificial worlds where they could escape the hardships of the real world, leaving only the remaining ten percent of the total population.
It was only natural. Those artificial worlds were much safer and conflicts were reduced because of the abundance of food and materials. It was the utopia humanity had always hoped for.
Despite the temptations of a so-called perfect world, there are still those who cling on to the old ways. To them, it is through the old ways that humans could truly evolve and acquire insight from suffering.
Astrid's family was part of that minority. Astrid herself, however, liked both the real and the artificial world just the same. She liked staying in the real world and hanging out in her room where she could study artificial world development through courses offered online.
With the air conditioner on full blast to counter the summer heat, she sat at her desk typing some codes into her laptop. Just when the music switched to her favorite song by Takane, her phone rang.
Her eyes landed on the name displayed on the screen: Luna. She accepted the call and placed it on speaker so she could continue typing.
"Astrid! Come here! We need you," Luna's voice was in panic. She sounded as if she was running.
"Are you in a dungeon?" Astrid asked.
"Yes. We need an extra DPS. There are too many mobs here. Amelie died several times." Suddenly, a loud crash followed. "Holy crap. She died again!"
"I'm sorry. I'm a glass cannon!" Astrid heard Amelie's voice in the background, as well as the sounds of monsters. Someone probably revived her.
Astrid stopped typing. "Which dungeon are you doing anyway? Minotaur?"
"No, Cerberus," Luna replied.
"That's a hard one. I'll be there in a bit."
Astrid ended the call and closed her laptop. She hurried into the normal-looking door beside her, which was actually a dimensional gate that led to the world of Aries. It was common for a home to have at least one gate such as this.
As the skeleton warriors roamed the area searching for players to attack, the three girls climbed a nearby tree to avoid the monsters' range of sight. So far, it was working. They managed to recover half of their health and mana.
"Thank goodness for these trees!" Amelie rested on the large tree's gigantic branch that held all three of them. "I love you, tree!" She hugged the tree branch like it was her best friend.
Christina Amelie Chrosse was the party's level 24 mage. She could deal massive damage, but sadly dies in just three hits. Her short red hair and tendencies to act like a princely character made other players deeply confused about her gender.
"Guys, I'm running out of potions," Luna said as she looked through her inventory.
Ayunluna, who is called Luna for short, was the party's level 29 crusader. She invested more of her status points into vitality, creating an effective tank build. However, this left her with a lower attack, so it takes a ridiculous amount of time for her to finish killing monsters.
"You're not the only one," Lyria said with a sigh.
Lyria Wolff was the party's level 40 priestess. She had a full support build, giving her powerful heals and buffs. However, she also dies after a few hits like Amelie.
"We should call Astrid again and ask her to go buy us more potions," Lyria suggested.
Luna pulled out her menu tablet, a device given to players so they can communicate with other players and access information such as the help manual and the rankings. It was an item that always stuck to the player, so it didn't matter if you dropped it into an endless pit of flames. It always materialized on your hand when you summoned it.
After calling Astrid twice, Luna shook her head. "She's not picking up."
"I don't think she can," Amelie said as she pointed at a player running in the distance. "She just attracted a mob and some mini bosses. We should have warned her about the monsters' range of sight here."
"Oh my gosh. Is that Astrid? We should help her!" Luna was ready to jump in.
Lyria was calm about it. "Don't worry about her. She has the Invisibility skill."
"Doesn't it only work on normal monsters and not bosses?" Amelie asked.
"Oh. I didn't know that. We'd better go help her then."
The three girls jumped down from the tree and ran to where Astrid was. Luna went first to deviate the attention of the nearby skeleton warriors from the fragile party members.
"Follow carefully behind me so we won't attract extra skeleton warriors," Lyria commanded. "Stand near me, Amelie, so I can heal you."
"Call me Chris when we're in this world!" Amelie urged.
Astrid used her Invisibility skill, losing the skeleton warriors as she ran. Now, only the mini bosses were chasing her. She led them to a corner where there were no other monsters.
"Astrid!" Luna shouted as she charged forward.
"There you are! I was looking all over for you," said Astrid, looking extremely relieved.
Astrid was the party's level 32 assassin. She had the most balanced build, investing just enough for strength, vitality, and agility, because she liked going solo to collect expensive items to sell. She had the tendency to spend more time gaining wealth than doing quests.
Astrid stopped running and prepared to attack the mini bosses as they rushed towards her.
"Lyria, I'm going in to tank the boss. Please resurrect me if I die," Luna said with conviction.
Lyria looked uneasy. "I can't cast resurrect anymore. I ran out of magic stones!"
"What!?" Luna's conviction immediately disappeared with the wind.
"Amelie kept getting targeted earlier with physical attacks, so she got killed several times." Lyria sobbed. "These magic stones cost 900 gold each! At this rate, I'll have to keep farming for stuff to sell just to buy more."
"I said call me Chris!" Amelie sobbed.
"We'll help you raise gold. In the meantime, please keep us alive!" said Astrid as she readied her katar.
Lyria nodded. "Got it! Go get 'em!"
As Luna stood in front of Astrid to block the mini bosses, one of them went past her.
"These things are level 38!" Amelie was horrified when she checked the mini bosses' levels. "It will take us forever to beat them!" She spammed her most powerful fire spells. "Ugh. I hate the long cooldown."
As Astrid fought the second mini boss, she noticed her health draining faster than normal. She realized she had been poisoned. "Lyria, can you cure me from poison?"
Lyria was already in distress from her lack of magic stones. "I'm so sorry, Astrid! I invested my skill points on heal and buffs, so I didn't learn Cure."
There was no way Lyria could catch up with the strong poison and continuous damage Astrid was receiving. Astrid knew this well.
Astrid spoke, "Lyria, focus on healing Luna. I'll lead this mini boss away from you and respawn in town. I'll hurry back here and resupply you with potions and magic stones."
"Astrid, no! Don't sacrifice yourself and your hard earned experience points!" Luna protested.
"It's our best chance of completing the dungeon. Besides, the death penalty isn't that bad. Do your best to stay alive!"
The others nodded.
Astrid ran as far as she could go until her health hit zero. The moment that happened, she was immediately teleported back to the square of the first town, Lamont. She found herself lying flat on the ground. Her body ached a bit but she was relieved to be in a safe area.
As she slowly got up, she noticed someone standing by the fountain feeding the birds with breadcrumbs. It was a sleepy-looking boy with disheveled white hair covering his right eye. Judging by his armor, he appeared to be a high-level mage. Probably around level 100.
As a bird landed on his hand, he smiled. Astrid found herself mesmerized by the scene that she forgot to move away from the respawn area. In an instant, her other party members spawned right above her. They fell and landed on her back, flattening her on the ground.
"Thanks for the cushion, Astrid!" Luna said with a laugh.
"That mini boss was so strong!" Amelie sobbed.
Lyria sighed. "Looks like we need to level up."
Astrid struggled to speak. "Hey, can you all get off me? I can't breathe properly."
"Oh! Sorry!" Luna said and rolled off her like a log.
"We'd better move before other players respawn above us," Lyria said as she moved away. The rest followed.
Astrid glanced at the fountain. The mage she saw earlier was gone.
Luna stood in front of the bulletin board in the town square where announcements are posted. "Hey ladies, check out this poster."
"What's that?" Lyria moved beside her.
Aries World Guild War Event
Earn prizes, gold, and prestige by competing in this tournament between guilds! Show off how powerful your guild is! To join, register your guild through Lamont's town mayor. Guilds must have at least 3,000 guild points to qualify.
Each week, elimination rounds are held. Guilds scoring the lowest ladder points are dropped from the competition.
Preliminary Week 1: 1 on 1 player versus player
Preliminary Week 2: Team player versus player (team of four)
Finals Week 3: Guild versus guild
Rewards are given to everyone who participates.
The schedule of activities will be announced later.
"That sounds like fun," Amelie commented.
"That's way out of our league. We'll totally get owned if we join that. Most guilds have players at level 80 and above. Besides, we're not even in a guild." Lyria sighed. "I do want the prizes though."
"Why don't we make one?" Astrid said.
"Do we really need to? We can just keep partying like this."
"If we form a guild, we have the option of having our own home base in an instance field. We can even keep pets and access the auction house from there. Plus, we can have our own plot of land for farming food ingredients if we upgrade it."
Lyria smiled at what Astrid said. "I like that. Now I can just grow my pumpkins instead of having to kill angels until they drop."
"Can we invite people into our base?" Amelie asked. She appeared eager for an answer. She probably had a few people in mind she wanted to invite.
"Yeah. As long as you have at least a manager status, you are free to invite outsiders into the field," Astrid replied.
"Manager status?" Amelie tilted her head.
"Basically, there are four ranks in a guild. The highest is the guild master, next is the second-in-command, after that are the managers, and the guildsmen rank lowest. All the ranks except guildsmen have the power to invite members into the guild and outsiders into the guild territory."
"I see. Can I be a manager then?" Amelie's eyes sparkled with excitement.
"I'm up for starting a guild!" Luna raised her hand.
"Me too! I want my pumpkin farm!" Lyria followed.
"Me three! I want a home base where I can sleep." Amelie held both her hands up.
"Let's start a guild then." Astrid paused. "Wait. Who'll be the guild master? Lyria, you're the one with the highest level, do you want to be the guild master?"
Lyria placed a hand up. "Nope. I don't want to be the guild master. Too much responsibility."
Luna averted Astrid's gaze and whistled. "I don't want to be guild master either."
"Why don't you be the guild master, Astrid?" Amelie said with a smile and a head tilt.
"Well, I don't really mind..." Astrid's voice trailed off as she thought of all the responsibilities.
"Ok, you'll be the leader then!" Luna gave a thumbs-up.
"Oh, I can call you Lady Astrid!" Lyria clapped her hands.
Astrid spoke as she read through the help manual through her menu tablet. "Well, we can't start it just yet. We need five hundred thousand gold to start one. We have to raise that amount."
As soon as she said that, everyone else sulked.
"What's wrong?" Astrid asked.
"I am poor," Amelie said. "I can't farm without dying."
"Same here." Luna sobbed. "I take a while to kill things."
"I use up so many blue potions while farming," said Lyria with a sigh.
"That's why we're farming together, because your builds are more effective in a party. I'll go gather information on good farming spots right now. In the meantime, let's farm separately."
Lyria went to her favorite farming spot outside of Everest Woods where she could kill angels for pumpkins. Pumpkins sold well in the market because they were ingredients for several food items that increased strength. It was her usual method of earning money.
"Hey, pumpkin girl."
Lyria frowned when she recognized the voice. "Don't call me that. If you're going to call me something, call me queen."
The guy who suddenly stepped into view from behind a tree was Magnus, the guildmaster of Jupiter. His guild was one of the most powerful ones in Aries, known for recruiting only skilled mages. He was also Lyria's next door neighbor before Aries was developed. It was thanks to him that Lyria entered the world of Aries.
"Nah. I like pumpkin girl better. Hey, I got you something." He pulled out a pumpkin hat while keeping a smirk on his face. "I was looking through the auction house when I found this. It reminded me of you, so I bought it."
"A pumpkin hat? Are you making fun of me?"
He laughed. "Try it on. It will make your heals more powerful."
Lyria hesitated before trying it on.
"Go on, try healing me."
She cast heal on Magnus. He was right. Her healing became twice as powerful.
"Wow. Thanks. I still feel like you're making fun of me though."
"Heh. You're welcome." He cast Lunar Flare, a fire property area of effect skill, killing all the angels around them. He picked up the pumpkins and handed them to Lyria. "So why are you farming these anyway? Money for equipment? Or are you fond of cooking? Oh! Are you making stew for me perhaps?"
"Sorry to disappoint you, but all your guesses are wrong. My friends and I are starting a guild."
"Oh? That's interesting. You need five hundred thousand, right? I can just give it to you."
Lyria shook her head. "No, I can't accept it." She didn't like owing people.
Magnus shrugged. "Alright then, but if you and your friends want to make some quick gold, you can try killing the wyvern boss at Everest Woods. At your current level, I think you and your friends can take it down. Just be sure to take cover when it starts flying in the air. You do not want to be hit by its flames. It decreases your defense by 40% if you get hit. Plus, your mana stops recovering."
She smiled. "Thanks for the information."
Magnus was fond of teasing Lyria, which annoyed her a bit. However, he was always helpful whenever she needed information on something, so she welcomed his friendship.
"If it happens to drop some iron ingots, please sell it to me. See you!" He winked and teleported away.
Lyria killed one more angel before heading off to find Astrid and the others.
"The wyvern at Everest Woods?" Astrid was deep in thought. "Perhaps we can take it down. The mobs in that area aren't aggressive, so we won't have as much trouble fighting."
The girls sat at a table outside the Lamont Café, one of their favorite gathering spots. They served coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and the special Lamont cake which could only be obtained in that store. It was located near the free marketplace, so there were many players passing by the café.
"We're taking down a wyvern? Oh yeah! I'm game!" Luna raised a fist up. "Hey Potato, I'll have one more order of Lamont cake."
Their little friend, Potato, a novice thief who was new to the game, poked her head through the door and noted down the order. "Anything else?"
Potato was working part-time at the café. Working part-time was a great way of increasing the cooking skill and acquiring new recipes while earning some gold at the same time. She sometimes gave them recipes and free juice.
"I'd like a sandwich please!" Amelie said with a bright smile.
"Got it. It will be served in a few minutes." Potato disappeared back into the store.
"Potato is hardworking as always," Astrid commented.
"That's why we love Potato!" Amelie grinned.
"Anyway, it looks like that wyvern is our best chance at getting that gold. Hopefully, no one is out hunting that wyvern when we get there."
Lyria nodded. "Alright. I'll go stock up on more blue potions after we finish eating."
"Oh yeah! I can't wait!" Luna was overly excited about taking down a wyvern.
Suddenly, Astrid remembered something. "Wait. What should we name our guild?"
"Something cool sounding..." Lyria was deep in thought.
"Club Alpaca!" Amelie suggested.
"No way. No one's going to take us seriously with that name."
"Alpaca Love!" Amelie formed a heart shape using her fingers.
"That's even worse!"
As Amelie began spouting out docile-sounding guild names, Luna's eyes wandered around in search of inspiration. Her gaze fell on a store selling items for mages.
"How about something dark sounding like Noctis... Noir?" Luna suggested.
Astrid nodded. "That doesn't sound bad."
"Ohh. I like it." Lyria gave a thumbs up of approval.
"Noctis Noir it is."
"I was thinking more of Dark Alpaca Society, but Noctis Noir is fine too," said Amelie with a shrug.
Lyria shook her head. "Really, Amelie. They'll think we're a joke if alpaca is in the name."
"Hey! I saw a guild named Hot Spicy Crabs. Alpaca can't be as bad as that."
"Wait, isn't that Potato's guild?" Astrid asked.
Everyone turned to look at Potato in unison. Potato continued serving customers, completely oblivious to their staring.
"Well, she did name herself Potato," said Luna. "I'm not surprised."
Lyria blinked twice. "That girl really likes food, huh."
Astrid cleared her throat. "Anyway, back to the main topic. After we eat, let's go stock up on potions and other items we might need. We'll meet at the entrance of Everest Woods."
The rest nodded.
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