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As the world came back into view, the first thing that Willow saw was that there were three little red hearts in the top left part of her interface, and that next to Violet and Soleil’s portraits, which were right under it, were also three red hearts. That was their HP? She’d seen this before, in old games like in Legend of Zelda games or in Minecraft, but it was definitely not something that was used commonly these days.

She let her eyes flit over the rest of the interface in front of her. In the top right of her view was a small map of her surroundings, as most games had, an easy way to navigate, and there were three little purple dots in the middle of the map right next to each other and an orange dot next to them, the purple dots were the three of them and the orange dot was probably the Shrine Maiden. As she looked around more, she saw there were a couple of buttons on the lower right side, looking at each gave her what they were, [character], [questing], [inventory] and [general menu]. Not much, but either more unlocked later or there would be sub-options, something like that. On the lower right side of her interface was the chat box, also pretty standard. The game had taken what was familiar to most gamers and had given it their own spin, but still kept close to what they knew, which was a good idea as it would let people get into the game easier.

But it wasn’t so much what she did see in the interface that pulled her attention, as what she was missing. She couldn’t find any slots for skills or an XP bar, or any of the other things she’d expect from a game, especially an MMORPG. What the?!

Shrine Maiden: Welcome to the introduction quest. This quest will walk you through a range of interactions, which will unlock parts of the game, and at the end you will receive a starter set of items and the ‘game mode’ option, which will allow you to switch between the actual game and the AR enhancements.

Shrine Maiden: Firstly, your health is measured in hearts, you find those at the top left of your interface. The more hearts, the more experienced player or stronger NPC. Don’t try to fight others who have many more hearts than you have, unless you’re in a group.

Well, that was interesting. So, no XP then? The number of hearts someone had sort of gave an idea of how strong the other was? Curious.

Shrine Maiden: Secondly, it’s a good idea to train offensive and defensive skills, as they’re both important for your survival.

The Shrine Maiden took a couple of steps back.

Shrine Maiden: Now, there are a couple of skills that you can train in, the offensive ones are swords, bows, maces and magic and the defensive ones are physical defence and magic defence. These skills will unlock new abilities and cross-skill combinations as they’re levelled up. Look out for cool combinations as you gain more experience.

Shrine Maiden: The first test is to try out each of the weapons scattered around and use them to attack the training dummy.

And right at the end of her sentence, four training dummies appeared with weapons next to three of them, one just having a small stand in front of it, nothing else showing and no more directions.

Willow looked at Violet and Soleil. Okay… it seemed that they now had to actually do something themselves.

Violet shrugged, looking at the dummies. “I think I’m trying the bow first. You know, since that seems to be my preference anyway.”

“Cool, I’m going for the sword.” Soleil nodded at one of the other dummies.

Now they both looked at Willow, who looked around. “I’ll just… I’ll try all of them and see.”

Violet smiled softy. “There has to be something that works for you, you know? You’ve got a lot of practice with a lot of weapons these days.” She wasn’t wrong…

Willow followed Violet, as there was another dummy right next to the one which had a bow and a quiver full of arrows in front of it. Violet stopped at the one with the bow and picked it up.

“It’s pretty light, and feels good to hold.” Then she pulled one of the arrows from the quiver, putting it on the bow and pulling the string back. Then she slowly let the string get back to normal. “I like the feel of this.”

They both stepped back, making space for Violet to shoot at the dummy. Violet often used bows in games, it was one of her favourites, together with guns… Violet put the arrow back on the bow, pulling the string back and after a couple of seconds, the arrow flew towards the dummy, hitting it in the head.

Violet grinned widely. “Cool.” She nodded. “I can get used to this game.” Then she looked at Willow. “What are you going to try? You want to unlock this skill?” She held out the bow to Willow.

Ehhh… “Sure.” She took the bow from Violet, who went back to the quiver and grabbed it, taking it over to Willow.

“Now, you know how to shoot, right?” Violet handed her an arrow.

Willow may not favour the bow, but of course, she knew how to use one. She took the arrow from Violet, putting it on the bow and then she pulled her arm next to her head, tightening the string until she felt the way it stopped getting much further. Then she took a steadying breath, pointed the tip of the arrow at the dummy and let go of the string. A couple of things happened at the same time.

First, the string of the bow hit her wrist, as she hadn’t been holding the bow correctly, painful and not good. Second, the arrow flew past the dummy ending up in the bushes at the side of the garden, she wasn’t that good at aiming arrows, that was obvious. Third, a notification popped up.

*Bow level 1*

*You have unlocked the Bow skill tree*

Ah, so that was what Violet meant before. By using a skill, you unlocked it. So it was probably a good idea to actually try all the weapons here and unlock them before they started the game.

“Not bad.” Violet bumped her shoulder into Willow’s.

“Not everyone can be as good as you.” Willow handed the bow back to Violet and walked over the next dummy, which just had a stand in front of it, not much more. Looking at the stand, there was a paper on it and a box with four rings.

[To unlock the magic skill, take the ring of the element you would like to use and focus on the dummy to use the attack.]

The four rings in the box each had a differently coloured stone in them. There was red (fire), amber (earth), blue (water) and white (wind). Okay.

Willow looked at each one, she was used to using elements like fire and water in other games, but earth and wind sounded more interesting. She picked up the white ring. Wind was an element she hadn’t played with in previous games, so that was probably the coolest thing to try out.

She put the ring on, a shiver going through her for a moment, but she wasn’t sure if that was just from the game in general or if that came from the ring. Then she stepped to the side of the stand and held out her hand to the dummy. Well, the game hadn’t given much instruction on how to do the attack, so it was probably similar to how she used it in other games, right?

She held the hand with the ring in front of her, her fingers outstretched wide, the palm towards the dummy. Then she pulled energy from within her and pushed it out her hand, similarly to how she did it in Helheim Fallen Online.

A cone of wind shot from her hand to the dummy, hitting it right in the chest. It almost looked a cross between a sound wave and a sideway whirlwind. Curious, but wind attacks were probably not easy to animate otherwise.

*Magic level 1*

*You have now unlocked the Magic skill tree*

“Awesome.” Soleil stood next to her. “Which one is that?”

“Wind.” Willow nodded, dropping her hand at her side. One thing that this game did do differently from most other games was that it didn’t require her to hold some sort of ‘weapon’ while using magic. She never liked using one anyway, and this way, she could just use her magic and not think about weapons or anything like it. And a ring at least gave her something to upgrade or swap out.

Willow opened her character screen.

[Player: Willow]

[Skills:]

[Sword: 1]

[Magic: 1]

The rest of her sheet was suspiciously empty, as in, a lot of empty space which obviously was meant to fill out more as she gained more skills. Then she focused on the magic skill and a new screen opened, this time, there was a tree shape on the sheet. At the bottom there was a circle, quartered into four colours and each colour had part of a symbol for an element. Part of a flame in red, part of a cloud in white, part of a water drop in blue and part of something like a mountain in amber. So, she wouldn’t have to train each element separately it seemed. It also meant that the ring decided the elemental magic she used, so she could carry multiple rings just to keep all elements available to her.

Then, above the first circle, following a line, there was another circle, this time just an dark grey outline with a silvery five in it, above that, the tree split into two with two circles with 10/30 in them and above that another circle over each with 20/40 in them. Okay, so that was a pretty straightforward skill tree. Nothing fancy.

Gain the levels, unlock more parts of the tree, and she probably had to choose something at the higher levels. Which allowed for some specialisation in the game, although, the Shrine Maiden had said something about there being ‘combinations’ to be unlocked. Great… That both excited and already tired her.

Willow closed the screens and looked at the ring on her finger, the magic skill was pretty cool, that was for sure. But she should probably try the other ones too, just to unlock them.

She put the ring back on the stand, and looked around. Two more skills to try.

***

As soon as they’d all tried the different offensive skills, the shrine maiden started to glow faintly. Which was… Okay, interesting.

Willow already knew that she wasn’t much good with a bow and the sword also didn’t do much for her, but it turned out that the mace was a weapon she also enjoyed. Maybe because it was so physical, like the racial attack she had in HF, just a lot of raw power to destroy something. Even though she didn’t think she would, she enjoyed it.

They all went over to the shrine maiden, as there was probably more to this quest.

Shrine Maiden: Great! You’ve tried the offensive skills. I hope you’ve found at least one you enjoy.

Willow shrugged, what was it with the excitement from an NPC?

Shrine Maiden: At the end of the quest, you will receive a weapon for each skill so that you can train each one as preferred.

So, they really weren’t going to be forced into choosing just one or two skills, they at least got the tools to level every one of them.

Shrine Maiden: Being able to attack things is very important, but there is a second part to survival. You need to be able to defend yourself. When you’re ready for it, you’ll first face off against a creature that does physical damage and then face off against a creature which does magical damage. In each of the battles, you can only block, not attack the creature.

Shrine Maiden: Are you ready?

Willow stepped back, shaking her head. She was getting tired. She was going to have to defend herself? How?

“Willow?” Violet stepped closer, her voice soft, and she reached out to her. “Are you okay?”

Willow shook her head again. “I don’t know if I like this. It’s…” Willow stepped closer to Violet, who wrapped her arms around her. “It’s just…”

“It’ll hurt.” Violet’s voice was low.

She nodded. She didn’t like pain, especially not if she was going to get hurt on purpose. Why would this be part of a quest? Why did this have to be part of the intro quest? Especially when there was no way to skip this, and she couldn’t even really defend herself by attacking the creature.

Why?

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