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The escape from the Flying Eels was a battle made of pure chaos. Vale had never experienced anything quite like it in SOO, at least not in the sky. Enemies came from practically every direction, all while his team defended from the top of the Mitochondria. The three brothers below operated the turrets, firing crank-operated machine guns, giant shotguns, and airburst cannons to assist.

Although the Herterz brothers couldn’t solo kill any of the enemy players with the turrets, they helped a lot. And whenever Vale’s team killed an enemy he was sure the brothers got contribution XP.

Vale was focused on dodging Flying Eel projectiles, protecting his team mates, and trying to make his < Wind Slash > attacks count. He realized rather quickly that the enemy used some sort of air shield, which was effectively a hard counter for Vale’s elemental magic.

In this fight, Abbey was the MVP by far. Her guns were accurate, effective, and packed impressive firepower. The fact the enemy Flying Eels were lower level also helped.

At one point in the fight, a fireball the size of Vale’s head sped up from behind him, slamming into a Flying Eel. He didn’t dare to turn yet, but one of his team had obviously just used their new World Tree elemental magic. He was impressed. Using elemental magic so soon after getting the legendary class would not be easy, especially for a player who didn’t have a magic-based class before.

His thoughts seemed to be underscored when someone fell behind him, landing on their butt. They’d overdone it.

Vale released another, lower power <Wind Slash > to make sure he had some room and turned around. His friend Bart was sitting down, looking dazed. Bart took the fire magic from the Wolrd Tree?! he thought. He shook his head and yelled, “Someone give him some smelling salts! Try to help him up if you get a chance. He just experienced backlash. Probably overdid it.”

Bart would have a very high Intelligence stat already from being an Alchemist, and it likely just went higher after visiting the World Tree. Casting elemental magic was no risk to Vale because he was an experienced magic-slinger and had a decent Willpower stat. But most of Bart’s stats were in Intelligence and Stamina.

It felt like their little group was about to escape. They were pulling away from the Flying Eels slowly and were almost out of projectile range. But then Vale felt something strange through his magical senses. Like a buzz. Then his [Paranoia] skill went crazy.

"What the hell?" He whispered. Then he yelled. " Everyone brace yourselves for something!"

"What?" Hollered abbey

"I don't know!" Vale yelled back.

From a low cloud, two ominous figures rose. They were bizarre looking, with barrel-like bodies, something like a fleshy flower on top as a mouth, two rigid, wrong-loong looking wings, and strange, blunt tentacles instead of legs.

Vale’s blood ran cold. These were First Things race players. This was the class that had been unlocked with the Monarch Stone that was stolen from him.

One First Thing flashed with green light, the other with pink. All the surrounding Flying Eels glowed with both colors. They’re casting buffs, he realized. “The Eels are being buffed!” he yelled out loud.

What followed was a completely insane three minutes of absolute madness. The First Things players attacked with weird, laser-like and electrical attacks, but most of their time and attention was spent on buffing the Flying Eels. Vale and his friends were able to kill a few more of the Eels, but the rest kept getting closer and closer.

Sounds of gunshots, snarling monsters, the rush of wind, and crackle of Bart’s potions became Vale’s world.

Suddenly, the clouds burst apart to the left and another flying ship came streaking in from the distance, guns blazing. Figures on the top of the ship were firing weapons, too. At first Vale thought they were enemies, but he felt an overwhelming sense of relief when he noticed their attacks hitting the Flying Eels. The Vermillion Entertainment symbol was painted on the hull of the other ship.

Vale turned back to the fight around him just in time to see the glob of Flying Eel goo coming right for his face. He tried to dodge but it hit. Vale was almost instantly paralyzed. The paralyzation was only for a second, but that was enough for a large Flying Eel to latch onto his shoulder with serrated teeth.

He barely had the presence of mind to stow all of his important gear in his storage before one of the First Things fried him with a glowing beam before it began to retreat. It didn’t have a face, but Vale could just imagine the smug player. His HP fell rapidly, and he heard his teammates yelling behind him as another Flying Eel ripped out his throat, hitting a critical strike and taking out the rest of his HP.

His vision went black.

You are dead. Would you like to play as a monster? Go to minigames? Play as a bandit? Gamble? Log out?

Vale was standing in an empty room that had no lights other than the glowing options hanging in mid air. In the past, someone dying would be locked out of the game for a week. No matter how popular and fun SOO was, such a harsh penalty would have cost the game most of its player base…if not for the mini games.

“Oh well, at least it’s only a few hours instead of days now,” he said. Before becoming a streamer, Vale might have chosen to gamble, or play minigames to earn in-game money. He was tempted to play as a monster, too. That could be fun and would net minimal amounts of XP for his main character. But Vale ignored all of them, smiled with one side of his mouth, and chose to play as a bandit.

It’d been a long time since he’d died and even longer since he’d played as a bandit. Now that he understood the game better and had more combat experience in general, playing this way might be a lot of fun.

When his vision cleared, he was standing in a forest clearing with a group of about 10 other new bandits, all dead players. Vale looked down at his belt, saw he was armed with a rapier, and grinned. Plenty of people played minigames or gambled in SOO to take a break from their characters. But playing as a bandit or as a monster required dying first.

Some people played as a monster all the time, stayed dead. Eventually most of those player types eventually evolved into PVP griefers,though. This required levelling a main account.

Everyone just sort of stared at each other for a moment before someone said, “Uh, everyone check their level yet?”

Vale was snapped back to the present and checked his stats. As a bandit, he had fairly lackluster stats, a 4 in every category, pretty bad. His level was 9, the same as the average player level in the game right now. All of his new skills were hidden. They’d be given to him in the middle of combat, or in the case of sensory skills, he might get them any time.

“I’m level nine,” he said, and soon the other members of this little group all chimed in. They were the same.

Right now he was playing as an NPCs. And like any other player in the skin of an NPC or monster, his private messaging function was turned off.

Right on queue, he got a quest:

Kill three players, [or (special PVP quest) kill five town guards], or disrupt ten quests.

And

Collect 2,000 gold.

Reward: 20% XP boost for 1 week or 2 levels, whichever happens first.

A new quest will be awarded after completion.

All XP earned will be transferred to your main character at 50% efficiency.

Vale grinned. When he was lower level and had died…things didn’t go well. He usually barely finished a quest or two. But even though this time he would only be able to play as a bandit for a few hours versus an entire week, he was confident he’d be much more efficient.

And based on his surroundings, he thought he knew where he was. If he was right, he wouldn’t even need to feel conflicted about screwing over other players. Something he’d learned about himself over the last few weeks was that he really, really didn’t like Abyssal Ones players. Hunting Abyssal Ones players would just be payback.

Where he’d spawned was perfect. If he was right, Innsmouth was to the north.

“Any streamers here? You don’t need to reveal your names or anything,” said Vale.

Nobody replied, just looked at him. He spread his hands and lied, “Well, I’m not a streamer either, but I have an idea of how we can finish at least one or two quests.”

One of the other would-be bandits hefted her axe and said, “I’m listening.” She had a big scar on her face and a mullet.

“Me too,” said a big, bearded man. His voice was familiar. He was the person who asked about levels.

“Good,” said Vale. “We should have gotten the same quest. The game does that so we’ll work together. So you all got the one to kill three players or five guards for the pvp quest, right?” The other players nodded. “Alright. Good. But before we start, does anyone have a weapon they really suck with? Does anyone need to trade?”

“We can trade?” asked a middle aged man with a physicaldex of 8. Of course, the 'dex wouldn't matter since the game randomized everyone's appearance as a bandit. It could use aspects of your character or the player, but the bandit character shouldn't be recognizable. “I’ve been dead a lot and I never knew that!”

“Yeah, you can trade weapons.” Vale smiled. “There really actually aren’t any rules for us at all. It’s actually one major reason I think my plan will work.”

He bent down, grabbed a stick, and began outlining his scheme.

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BlaiseCorvin

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