“Over here Cookie!” Q jumped up and waved her hand. She was waiting near the town outskirts with the rest of the Crios blades standing around her.
“It’s Kukis you dolt!” Kukis swung her fist down onto Q, who nimbly dodged out of the way.
“Why hello there, fair Coo-” Verne was interrupted as a hammer was swung dangerously close to his head, leaving a cold sweat down his back.
“Finish that and I bash you. I don’t know what Q told you all, but my name is Kukis! Call me anything resembling Cookie and you’ll be my first PK.” Her expression was so deathly serious that an oppressive atmosphere began to form around the area, and even the bubbly Melun couldn’t help but quiet down under the pressure. Despite that, there was a single entity that was able to completely blow the atmosphere away.
“Come on Cookie, there’s no need to be so angry! It’s not making a very good impression on this new party.” Q easily approached Kukis and attempted to calm her down.
“YOU’RE the one making me angry!” For a second it seemed like Kukis would explode in rage, but in the end her anger dissipated upon seeing Q’s innocent smile. “Haaaaaaaaa… Alright listen, I can’t do anything about Q calling me Cookie, but I don’t want to hear it from any of you. If you can do that, we’ll get along just fine.”
“Uh, sure! You got it Kukis!” Melun quickly regained her energy once she felt that atmosphere disappear. “If I can’t call ya ‘the word’, can I call ya somethin’ else? Like… Kooks!”
“That’s… eh, alright.” Kukis easily acquiesced to Melun’s request.
“Great to hear Kooks! I’m Melun, and I like cats!” At this point the rest of the members lined up behind Melun and perhaps due to being influenced by her, delivered a similar greeting.
“I’m Verne, and I love getting to know new people!” Verne attempted to give a saucy wink but was interrupted by an elbow to his side.
“I’m Neira, and I’m sorry for this idiot trying to flirt with you.” Neira, who was a blue-scaled dragonkin grabbed Verne by the scruff and dragged him off somewhere.
“I’m Fortis Caleron, and I enjoy PVP battles.” His eyes scanned Kukis and apparently liked what he saw so he gave an approving nod.
“Last but not least I’m Aeryn, an’ I quite like my adorable little sister.” She glomped Melun who giggled in delight.
“Right. Sorry for that outburst earlier. I’m Kukis, nice to meet you all.” Kukis stuck out her hand and exchanged handshakes with the entire Crios crew. “Now that introductions are out of the way, what’s the quest?”
Fortis stepped forward and began to explain. “The quest we have is to slay eight rampaging boars in the forest, to trim down their numbers. That isn’t the main reason we’re going out though. We managed to obtain rumors of a dungeon, thanks to our adorable mascot.”
“Aw shucks… wait, are ya’ sayin’ I’m just a mascot character!?” Melun protested.
“Don’t deny your calling Melun.” Aeryn, who still had Melun in her grasp began to stroke her head, quickly calming down the girl.
“Dungeon huh. This might be more worth it than I thought. I’m ready to head out anytime, how about you guys?” Kukis asked.
“We just finished our preparations. Let’s get going!” Fortis began to move and the rest of the party followed him.
The group headed south, following a well-trodden path outside of town. The grasslands were still filled with astralites doing their respective quests but there was a noticeably smaller number of them dotting the fields. Along the way the group were chatting among themselves, and thanks to the presence of the outgoing Melun and carefree Q, they all got along fairly easily. If there was anything that was a problem, it would be…
“Hey Melun, stop kill stealing!” Verne yelled at the front. He brandished a long sword and cut down a wolf trying to bite his throat, before sending out a ball of fire towards another one.
“It’s not stealin’! That one was about to bite ya’!” Melun was perched on a tree branch, using a bow to shoot at the pack of wolves that surrounded their party. Every so often she would aim at a low-health wolf which someone else would just ‘happen’ to be targeting, leading to quite a few complaints.
“Just whittle them down Melun, no wolf is biting anyone on my watch!” Neira shouted and attracted the wolves attention by using a skill called [Taunt], which dragged a sizeable number of wolves towards her. She alternated between bashing them with her large shield, or smashing them with her swinging mace.
“Wha- Neira! I just used an AoE hun! Now I’ve wasted a spell!” Aeryn who was hitting the wolves with strong spells (after careful aim) suddenly lost her target. This disrupted her concentration which led to one of the wolves taking advantage of her distraction by leaping at her throat.
“Behi- oh screw it, [Shield]!” Fortis cast a spell which left a transparent barrier of light around Aeryn. It broke on impact at the wolf’s tackle, but it was able to stop it in time for Verne to jump in and slice it in two.
“…They’re a complete mess.” Kukis said with a distant look in her eyes.
While walking to their destination they were set upon by a pack of wolves, and Verne confidently said, “Leave this to us, we’ll show you how we work together!” The result of which was the disastrous scene that lay before Q and Kukis. Objectively speaking, the Crios Blades were actually doing quite well despite their complaints with one another. Every time someone would fall into a spot of trouble, another member would help cover them, and that wasn’t mentioning their firepower which was quite high compared to the average of other parties in the area. Eventually they were able to slay all of the wolves, and at that point Q spoke up.
“I’m asking out of curiosity rather than concern but… have you guys ever played an MMO before?”
“Of course we have! It’s where we got our name from.” Fortis puffed up his chest and wore a proud expression on his face. “We were the Crios Blades, one of the top one hundred guilds back in True World Online! Players would always talk about us when we passed by.”
“Yeah, ranked ninety-eight out of a hundred.” Neira interjected.
“Shush Neira. Though we’re in a different game, we can still build our way up to the top!”
“Oh hey, we played that as well!” Q put her hand on Kukis’ shoulder. “If you were able to make your way onto the leader-board then you gotta have some capability when it comes to properly fighting in a party… in that case, it’s the difference between fighting with a mouse and keyboard and using your own body. The answer is clear, just move your body more!”
“You say that like it’s easy,” Verne complained, “Even if I do sports in real life, swinging a bat is different from swinging a sword.”
“Ehh, I wouldn’t say so. At the end of the day a bat is just a heavy stick, and a sword is just a sharp stick. Whacking a monster isn’t so different from whacking a baseball.”
“You think so…?”
“Oh no, stop right there mister.” Kuksi brushed off Q’s arm and held her hand out in a ‘stop’ motion. “What you’re about to get yourself into is a very dangerous way of thinking that involves losing all your common sense.”
“Hey it’s not that bad,” Q complained, “If anything it’s an advanced way to perceive the world, using a mix of wisdom and ingenuity to understand the core essence of-”
“No. You. Stop. Now. I don’t need another common-sense breaker around here when you’re already too much to handle.”
“Alright then…” Verne felt interested in Q’s ‘way of thinking’ but something in the back of his head told him not to pursue the matter further.
“Say, talkin’s all well an’ good, but I think it’s about time for your turn!” Melun jumped up and pushed Q and Kukis forward. “Lookie there, one of our targets! Show us what ya’ got.”
“Yeah… sounds about fair.” Kukis shrugged and pulled out her hammers, while Q also drew her staff.
[Bash Boar – Level 15]
The creature that appeared was a boar that looked similar to the ones Q met in the round forest, but these ones had a hide with red and black stripes, making them appear quite striking. Q made the first move by immediately throwing her staff like a javelin and drawing her daggers. Without missing a beat Kukis followed up with her hammers. The boar noticed Q’s staff but was unable to avoid it, taking a clean hit on its side. Right after that Kukis’ hammers made contact and managed to shove the boar slightly to its side, throwing it off balance. Before the boar could even think about moving its eyes were assaulted by Q who then sent a [Spark] directly through its head.
The boar had surprising vitality as it shook Q off and proceeded to rampage on the spot. Kukis recalled her hammers and Q rolled on the ground to avoid the boar’s hooves, and then stood up with her staff in hand.
“Hey big guy, over here!” Q goaded the boar towards her by moving her staff close to its remaining eye.
With its attention taken Kukis was able to hit it once again, giving Q enough time to use [Gathering Storm]. With one mighty blow the boar was smashed down to the ground and disappeared in a burst of light.
“Nice timing Cookie. You should totally get into melee range and smash its head with me.” Q grinned fearlessly.
“Uh, no thanks. I feel like I’m going to get hit by a stray swing.”
“What? I would never!” Although Q looked sincere, Kukis was able to catch a glimpse of a mischievous glint in her eye before it was covered by her innocent expression.
“Damn! That was real smooth!” Melun clapped her hands in excitement, while the rest of the group stared with their mouths open.
“Psh, that was nothing. You should have seen us combo the hell out of some bosses in TWO. We juggled those things to death.”
The Crios Blades surrounded Q, giving her tons of praise. At first Q was basking in their praise, but as they continued she gradually started to feel uncomfortable, not that any of the others noticed. Kukis stood off to the side as she watched Q with a raised eyebrow, counting down mentally in her head. Their praise is a little too excessive so… five, four, three, two…
“Alright, alright. That’s enough of that. Let’s keep going and finish this quest in one go!” Almost as if running away, Q walked forward with a brisk pace leaving behind the others. Kukis, who was prepared for this had already caught up to Q and whispered to her.
“Are you… still not over it?”
“…Let’s just say I don’t forget things easily.” For a moment Q’s expression clouded over, but just as quickly it cleared up. “Hey, let’s just play the game for now okay? We’re here to have fun!”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll be counting on you.”
Just as they finished their little talk the Crios Blades caught up. Sensing that Q wasn’t exactly happy with their praise, they instead asked her about advice on how to work together as well as she did with Kukis. Q was more than happy to give them advice and a harmonious atmosphere returned to the group. While most of the others were talking to Q, Fortis slowed down a bit and approached Kukis.
“The two of you are quite something. Did you have training in real life before this? I can’t imagine that it’s just natural talent.”
“Q has. Personally, I haven’t picked up a single weapon before playing this.” Kukis tossed her hammer into the air and caught it in her other hand. “I really don’t have a lot of talent when it comes to fighting, but rather I’m just good at predicting Q’s actions.”
“You’ve spent a lot of time together then?”
“More than I can say.” Kukis frowned, but she didn’t look at all displeased. “How about your side? Are you all friends in real life as well?”
“Yes. Verne and I grew up with each other, and we met Melun, Aeryn and Neira during middle school. It was a… let’s say, explosive encounter.”
“I don’t even know the specific circumstances, but I heavily relate to that.” Kukis’ eyes wandered over to Q who was currently giving a lecture on the benefits of skipping the use of some skills that have come off cooldown.
“Haha, looks like the two of us have our hands full.”
“Oh you have no idea. If you think Q’s a handful then you’ll probably be surprised to hear that she’s the most tame in my group. The other three are… volatile in nature.” The two exchanged glances and let out a long sigh.
While Fortis and Kukis bonded over their mutual troubles, the rest of the group came across another Bash Boar. This one was quite strange though, as it actually had a person sleeping on top of it. While everyone was visibly confused at this strange encounter, the boar noticed them and began pawing the ground threateningly. This movement caused the person on top to stir, and they sat up groggily.
“Ugh… who the hell is interrupting my nap?”