We moved on with our expedition. Our M.O. was to seek open spaces in between the ruins so that the imps couldn’t ambush us. When there were enough gathered, we would lay our arrow trap and lure one in. They fell for it every single time. Perhaps they were blessed with primate instincts, yet I couldn’t help but wonder at their absolute lack of learning. Or perhaps the arrows were simply too tempting. Either way, Carol would assassinate the courageous one, while the rest quickly took care of the following enraged family. I had stopped casting spells on the ground and dagger, it didn’t help much.
About halfway through the ruin - well I assumed it was halfway because we were walking on for what seemed like a day, the whole process of luring, assassinating and eventual chaos of blades and claws got so repetitive that Julie and I were having a casual conversation while the rest were in the midst of another broil.
“…so how did you and Jake meet?” I asked.
“It’s not that interesting or romantic as you might expect. We were both interns at the same firm. One day he just asked me out of nowhere; I said yes, and so it began!” Julie replied with a nostalgic smile.
“It’s hard to find someone so compatible. But Jake and Julie, even your names are part of a famous rhyme, sort of!” I made a stupid observation, eyeing the glow on Divin’s wrist that was being healed by Arya just outside the fight.
“Well, my name isn’t actually Julie. In German, it comes out something close to Hulia, but I doubt you guys could pronounce it,” she said while putting the arrow in her hand back inside the quiver. The fight was coming to an end.
“I’ll stick to Julie, no problem. By the way, my name isn’t Pat either!” I said with a mysterious smile. Julie looked at me with a smile of her own and asked, “Oh, what is it then?” “Ah, you probably won’t be able to pronounce it either.” I smirked, opting to extend the mystery. The rest of the gang had returned by then.
¤ ¤ ¤
“It has been 3 days, 2 hours and 13 minutes since we began from Spawn Point.” Betty replied to a question from Julie.
‘So we’ve been wandering these ruins for a better part of 2 days? Wow.’ This time, it certainly did feel like it. The imps came at us sporadically, unlike the constant churn of slimes. I was mostly relegated to the rear position now since my contribution to the fight was limited to cold spell at the start. The imps usually died out before I could recover my mana. Interestingly enough, Incendio did not seem to affect them as much as Petrificus did. I couldn’t figure out why exactly.
The mêlée combatants of our group were raking in XP. I bet Carol must have gained several times than the rest with her solo kills. Oh, the rest didn’t include Arya, she was an outlier. I was proved correct soon when she leveled up again. I checked my Status Window, I still needed about 55 XP. At least I was ahead of Julie. Not that it mattered, I doubt we’d leave anyone behind. ‘Would we not, if it really came to it?’ I wondered.
It must’ve been our twelfth ambush when I noticed something that hadn’t happened before. A particularly large imp, largest so far, had decided to have a go at the arrow. When Carol jammed her dagger into its throat, it was momentarily aflame like normal, but it didn’t leave behind just ashes. When the flames died out, we saw an old boot lying on the ground. ‘Is that a monster drop?’ I was amazed. This was so game-like. I did not, however, put the old boot into my inventory. First, I didn’t need it. Second, I had no inventory. The others ignored it as well, after the initial curious glance or two. The incoming horde of imps also demanded our attention.
¤ ¤ ¤
“My major is Environmental Science. I wanna be part of this community, ya know? Have people come together, help each other out. That is the end goal anyway. Planting some trees is a part of the journey; making our planet greener is not such a bad idea after all.” Carol answered to my question about her studies and activities.
“So, which university in Ireland do you go to?” I continued. “Ah, ya know. I am from Ireland, but my college is in the England. I’ve been staying there since last year” she said. “Cool… What about you Arya, what do you do?” I turned to Arya. Julie, Taro, and Divin where on a lookout of sorts. They were also verifying our heading, making sure we weren’t going around in circles. Since it was troublesome for only one to go, we had split up in 2 groups. Arya, Carol, and I were holding the fort with one half of Betty. Also, Arya was healing our minor wounds from a recent scuffle. “I’m a fashion designer,” she said. Arya wasn’t as tight-lipped as she was before. Now that I looked at her closely, she was quite pretty as well. “Artistic eh? Nice.” I said. While I noticed a small scratch on the back of my hand mend, Carol asked Arya about her hometown. “Oh, I’m from Canada. Well, technically, I was born in India, but my family moved to Canada when I was 6. Been there for almost 20 years now.”
‘Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia’ I guess we’re missing members only from Australia. I doubt Antarctica would be considered anyway. Uniform distribution, for sure. “So you’re a programmer then?” Arya brought me out of my contemplation. “Ah yes, I work as a Software Developer,” I said. “Then, can I ask you for a favor?” Arya said in a slightly flustered tone. “Oh, of course. What is it?” I asked. I could already imagine what it could be. “I want to learn how to create customized spells. I guess you’ve already created a couple. How hard is it?” she asked, growing quite interested. “Well, it’s not hard in the sense of creating one. It’s more a matter of information shortage that holds you back here,” I said. I wondered if I could’ve worded it better. I tried again, looking at her confused expression. “I mean, it is easy to write a spell, as long as you have the information you need to write one. It’s like… Well, writing a recipe. Writing the recipe itself is not the problem. The issue is we don’t know what ingredients we have.” I explained. “So how do we find the ingredients?” came the obvious question. “Now that… That is a very good question.”
¤ ¤ ¤
It wasn’t quite me working on spells indulgently, as I had to keep a lookout as well, but we did run some experiments. While Carol had the tilde symbol in her Status Window as well, it was greyed out and barely visible. She couldn’t open the terminal. Arya, on the other hand, could. I had her type in Incendio with her mind. That was it though. She couldn’t cast the spell. We enquired Betty about the same. Apparently, Healer Class did not have access to the temperature of a target. Ironic, really. All their spells had to target HP, MP or SP in one way or another, without directly modifying them. The fact that changing temperature could affect HP was immaterial, a minor side effect. I couldn’t figure out this weird restriction, wondering how her ‘Heal’ Skill worked. I felt like I was missing something. Upon further experimentation, it was revealed that we also didn’t have access to the source code of the Skill. Basically, we were stuck.
While Arya was trying out random things in her terminal, the other group and Betty’s other half came back. I could sense the excitement from their faces. Even the ever stoic Divin had a slight curve to his lips. My curiosity was eventually sated when Taro exclaimed - “We found the exit!”