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After the shrine maiden had told them that the next part of the quest was basically them being beaten up by some creature, they’d taken a short break. They were back in Soleil’s living room and snacking on some popcorn, all sitting around the kitchen table.

“I like the skills, and the skill trees.” Violet popped a piece of popcorn into her mouth. “At least we’re not so locked into a single class now.”

Soleil nodded, taking a sip from her drink. “Yeah, I like that too. Though, I think they may want to change the intro quest… I don’t like the idea of being beaten up just to unlock some skill. And I don’t think a lot of other people like the idea either.”

“Yeah…” Violet sighed. “They may want to change that.”

“I like the thing they do with the magic, not locking you into an element or something, just letting you use whatever.” Willow looked around, putting her head on the table. She wasn’t looking forward to the next part and that wasn’t good on her mood.

“Oh.” Soleil sat up. “I just got a message from Micah. He’d like to join us. You guys okay with that?” She looked them over, raising an eyebrow.

“Sure.” Violet shrugged.

“Yeah, okay.” Willow sat up too. “Wait… He’s been through all this, right? So he’ll at least know more about the next part of the quest.”

Soleil nodded, smiling slightly. “Yeah, he probably would. Though, I’m not sure how much he’ll share. I’ll tell him to come over.”

They went back to snacking, until there was a knocking on the door to the garden and the guy from earlier was standing in the doorway. Well… It was probably him, but he didn’t look the same, they could now see his Shades of the Spirit World avatar instead. He was shorter than before, was built blocky and had dark hair, including a fancy beard. He was wearing some leather armour and had a bow slung over his shoulder as he held a shield in his other hand. “Evening.” He smiled as he stepped inside.

“Evening.” Soleil grinned. “Now I can finally see what you look like in the game.”

Micah grinned as he came over, spreading his arms. “What do you think? This armour was hard to get, you know?” He shook his head. “Hi. I see that you’ve all started the game too, cute characters.” He looked at Willow a little longer than he looked at the rest. “Cat girl?”

“It’s soft.” She smiled, then cocked her head to the side, she felt the way one of her ears moved to the side even more, and the guy laughed.

“Right.” He sat down next to Soleil and took a sip from her drink. “So, have you completed the starter quest yet?”

Violet shook her head. “We’re on the defence part of the quest, it didn’t sound too much fun.” She pulled a face.

“Ah.” Micah let out a sigh. “Yeah. The quest isn’t as bad as it sounds, it’s not you getting all beaten up, it actually teaches you how to block and avoid attacks. It’s actually pretty cool.” He flashed them a big grin. “It made me ask for another offensive class, one where you fight with your bare hands. Since, you know, there are so many fighting styles in the real world that have nothing to do with weapons and they’re sorely lacking one in this game, even though they apply some of it in the defensive skills.” He shrugged and finished Soleil’s drink, like it was the most normal thing in the world.

Soleil didn’t even seem surprised, like he did this all the time. Willow hadn’t yet considered how close she’d been to the other people in this house, but if she spent a lot of time with the others in the house, gaming and such, why did she keep hanging out with Willow and the others? It made no sense, these people were more of her age and she probably shared a lot more experiences with them.

“Think of it more as classes in self-defence than really about just blocking or getting beaten up.” He grinned, standing up again. “But, also, after you’ve finished that part of the quest, you’re actually out of the intro, so depending on how fast you finish it, we could all play together later…” He stretched and then went over to the fridge, grabbing another drink for each of them. “Not a lot of people here in the house have the update and the game, so I’d love to play with a couple more people.” He handed them all their drink and sat down again. “Unless you’ve got other plans?”

Willow shrugged, she didn’t have many plans, but Micah was being very familiar with them, which made her a little uncomfortable. She stood up. “I’ll be right back, I’ve just got to…” She pointed to the garden. “Just gotta talk to someone.” She fled to the garden, the shrine maiden was still standing right where she’d been standing before, and Willow walked past her, turning a corner and sitting down against the wall at the side of the house. It was quieter here and she needed a little quiet, things were getting a little intense in her head.

She opened a chat with Sage.

Willow: You there?

She closed her eyes, letting out a slow breath, before opening them again.

Sage: I’m here. How are you doing? Did you get the update yet?

Willow smiled, her head calming down.

Willow: Got the update, and started the intro quest of the game with Violet and Soleil.

Sage: Cool. I’ve completed the intro quest. So I’m ready to join you whenever you’d like to.

Sage: It’s kind of empty… No other players here.

Willow: I get that. Have you spoken to the others yet?

Sage: I spoke to Dawn, but he’s not updated yet, something about needing a little more time. Why?

Willow: Nothing, really, just curious.

She just wanted to make sure that the others were safe too and hadn’t gotten in trouble or something. No matter that it had been months since the whole HF thing, she was still nervous and not being in constant contact with her friends made her even more nervous.

Sage: What weapon are you going to choose?

Willow: Magic, probably. It was the easiest.

Sage: I thought that you would. I was thinking the same, or maybe the bow.

Talking to Sage always calmed her down. Sure, so did talking to Violet or Soleil, but not when there were others around. She just had to take a little break…

***

Willow looked at the creature in front of her, he was big, but like Micah had said, this wasn’t so much about getting beaten up, but about learning how to defend herself.

As the creature struck at her, she pushed his arm away and turned, making sure that she got close enough to him that he couldn’t hit her again. It was like a dance. Get out of the way, avoid getting hit, getting close enough that he wouldn’t be able to hit her, all the things. She had no idea how this could help if the creature she’d be fighting would have a sword or something and she only had her magic, but she’d probably find out soon enough.

The creature pushed her away, back to where she’d started the battle.

*Physical defence level 1*

*You have now unlocked the physical defence skill tree*

The big creature disappeared and instead there was now a fairy-like creature floating in its place.

Shrine Maiden: Magical defence is up next. You can avoid the attacks, but throwing the opposite element at the caster or otherwise getting the attack to change direction also works.

Sure… But since she had no weapon here, not even a magic ring, she couldn’t really use any of those tactics.

Shrine Maiden: There is also a minor magic shield that you can use, though don’t try to use it against large magic attacks.

Well, that was more like it.

The fairy-like creature threw a small earth attack her way, like rocks being lugged at her, and Willow threw up her arms, trying to protect herself against them, and felt a magical field surround her arms. Okay, so that actually worked. The pieces of rock bounced off the small field, ending up next to her on the ground.

Willow lowered her arms again, looking at the fairy. Would there be more?

The next moment, the fairy threw a wind attack at Willow and she pulled up her arms again, this was a much bigger attack than she’d been able to do before when she tested the magic herself, it was also a much longer attack.

As the wind kept blasting at her, going and going, Willow glanced up and saw that she’d lost half a heart, and as she looked at them, another heart disappeared. What? Why?

“Avoid!” Soleil yelled and Willow blinked. Of course.

She stepped to the side, keeping her arms up, and the magical field, and stepped right out of the stream of wind. It was so simple, avoid or defend, don’t try to keep defending when you’re obviously not strong enough, or you’ll keep losing health… Duh!

*Magical defence level 1*

*You have now unlocked the magical defence skill tree*

It was curious that not getting hit would also gain her (invisible) XP towards a skill, but that made sense. If she could manage not to get hit, that was the obvious purpose of the skill, so both defending and not being hit would both let her gain levels for it. But it still felt weird.

Shrine Maiden: Congratulations, that concludes your introduction quest. Please speak to me if you want to complete the quest and leave this instance.

Okay, but she was just the first one to do these things, Violet and Soleil both had to still finish the quest, so she wasn’t leaving just yet, there was no reason to.

She grinned at Violet. “You’re up next.” She went over to the steps behind the house and sat down next to Soleil as Violet went over to the ‘arena’ that had been conjured up in the AR. Violet took a wide stance, waiting for the first creature to appear.

Soleil bumped her shoulder into Willow’s. “That was a strange quest.”

“Yeah.” Willow let out a breath. But at least she was done with it now, she didn’t have to worry about it anymore. “You looking forward to it yet?”

Soleil shrugged. “I don’t think this really is that hard. But I get why they’d put it into the intro quest, it’s important.” She put her head on Willow’s shoulder. “But this is definitely more intense than just doing things in VR, my arms are sore, I think I overdid it on the sword trying out earlier.”

Willow laughed as Violet started fighting the creature in front of her. “Yeah, you did seem to have a lot of fun with it.”

“I just wanted to see if I could gain another level here, or if this was just capped at getting to level one.” Soleil moved her head a little.

“It’s capped.” Micah spoke up. “We’ve tried. It just unlocks the skills, nothing more. You can’t gain any levels here. You need to get out into the real game for that.”

“Boo.” Soleil sat up again and pulled a sad face. “That’s mean.”

Micah let out a short laugh. “No, it’s against people trying to get to level however-much before they’re even in the real game. It’s smart coding.”

“It is.” Willow nodded. She would have expected it anyway, not being able to gain more than just the skill, just to keep things equal. Plus, this game was rough enough anyway. Violet was already really good with her bow, even though she was just level 1, but that was because she’d already been good with a bow before. Things that you already knew how to do really influenced the lower levels here.

Which didn’t make her feel very easy, because she had no skills to use in this game, apart from being able to shoot bolts of magic at things… And that wasn’t really a rare skill, anyone could do that.

She was already behind on the others, because everyone else had experience with weapons and such, and Willow had always been a caster, a skill anyone could do without much practice…

That was going to be fun…

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