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One Last Game

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"You're really restarting? But your old account was so good! And it'll take forever for you to get back to level 31! Me and Hasu are going to be too far ahead…"

Bera Gu rolled her eyes at Kazu's whining. "Good? It was awful!" she said, never slowing the pace of hands over the computer's mouse and keyboard. 

"It was great!" Kazu shot forward from his seat and slapped a hand down over the keyboard. He ignored Bera's indignant cry and continued. "I'm telling you, you're making a huge mistake. You were rolling rare items all the time. Your gold drops were the highest of the guild! That kind of luck doesn't come around twice."

"It's not a mistake. Those rare items were useless. And yeah, I got a lot of gold drops, because I never got any good skill drops or stat boosts items! My character had to have been the weakest level 31 in the game. So I hope that kind of shit luck doesn't come around twice. Now move ." She swatted at Kaz's hand, and he instantly recoiled.

"Ow!" Kazu rubbed the growing red mark on his hand where Bera had slapped him. "Gah, do what you want!"

"Oh, I will. See?" She turned to face Kazu and smiled. Then without ever turning back, Bera twirled her hands with flourish before tapping down on the enter button. "All done."

The scene on the computer screen faded to black, with only the game's title, ONE LAST GOD, still emblazoned at the top. Then from the darkness, squares of light swirled and rose, constructing the character model in its path. It only took ten or so seconds for the character to finish being loaded. The avatar on screen cheered and waved to celebrate its own birth.

"Ugh, your tastes are weird as ever, Bera," Kazu said. "Her face is gross--ow!!" This time, it was Bera's foot that flashed forward to deliver a kick to Kazu's shins.

"I based it on my own!"

"Yeah….you sure did--ow! Stop doing that!" Kazu cried, hands covering his shins protectively.

Bera hmphed and swiveled her chair back to the computer screen. She may have been no great beauty, but Kazu didn't exactly possess any once in a century good looks either. As far as she was concerned, her character looked just fine. Bera watched the character animations loop a few times, and admired her handiwork. The avatar had her round face, her squat nose, and her head of wavy hair, albeit in a bright green. Her eyes drifted to the bottom of the screen and narrowed in confusion.

"Huh?" Kazu leaned in too. "Hey, Bera, why'd you name her Kubera? I know you want to be a triple Kubera class again, but it's a little arrogant to give her the name of a god, don't you think?"

Kubera: in game lore, the patron god of the striker class. In real life, it was also the test striker created when the game was first being developed. As such, the name was synonymous with the striker class itself. The account still existed, and belonged to one of the higher developers maintaining the game. It was put into use whenever a feature for the striker class needed to be tested.

Of the 12 classes in the game, players could choose to split their class makeup between 3 classes, but only those who played one class could gain access to a class' highest tiered skills. The striker class in particular was a subset of the fighter category along with knight and berserker. It was focused on close combat and self-buffing.

"Don't be ridiculous," Bera said, still peering at the name displayed in her character's name slot. "I named her Leez. Besides, the name Kubera should be taken up already. I couldn't name my character that if I wanted to! Ah geez, I don't want a conspicuous name like this at all…where's the back button?"

Ding! Kazu glanced at his phone to see a message from his brother, Hasu. Panicking a little, he snatched up the phone to hide the text from Bera, who was too busy searching for a way to edit her character's name to care. Everyone here!! it read.

"Too late, too late!" he said. "She's already been created. Let's just move ahead. Contact an admin later."

"I guess you're right…" Bera conceded.

"Yup. Go, go, go, I'll meet you at the guild!" Kazu pulled on his jacket. "See you in game, Bera!" And with that he bolted out the door. Bera heard his faint goodbye to her mother before the front door slammed.

Suspicious. He and Hasu lived next door. There was no real reason for him to be running like this unless…

Bera sighed. They should've picked someone other than Kazu to do it. He was too obvious.

She hit the continue button and selected Willarv as her starting world. All around her avatar, the world brightened and the scenery of the starting village faded into view. Bera smiled slightly. Ah, the nostalgia.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Immediately tutorial boxes popped up and blocked the village from view. "Anddddd skip, skip, skip…" she muttered, closing the boxes as they opened.

After three minutes of battling with the tutorials, one final message popped up with a You're now ready to begin!

Bera snorted. She glanced at the name floating over her character's head, and was surprised to see that it now displayed Leez Haias. What a weird glitch, she thought. Did the game mistake her class for her name? No, that couldn't be right….it wasn't until level 15 that players could beginning selecting their first class allocations. It was impossible for the game to know that she would choose to be a triple striker again. She shrugged; it didn't matter anymore.

 


 

Although One Last God had some truly startling landscapes, even just within the land of Willarv, the starting village showed none of that. It was painfully generic. Plain, boxy buildings dotted the stepped hills. A single river ran through the center of the village. Kazu joked once that it's existence was just so that the starting village could have a bridge to be a landmark. The surrounding Mushroom Forest's only distinctive feature was the sheer amount of mushrooms that could be farmed. Most of them were white-grade common ones worth little more than a copper, but at times, it was known to spawn patches of orange-grade golden curry mushrooms.

However, real estate was cheap. Most of the big guilds could afford buying up space in more exceptional looking locations to house their members, but most of the smaller ones defaulted to buying a building in a village.

The nearest of the great guilds was Atera, situated among the red leaves of the Ember Forest on the hills overlooking the city of Atera. For that reason, recruitment posters for joining the Atera guild were plastered throughout the village. Bera ignored them all and headed straight for a nondescript building at the edge of the starting village. The casual eye would miss the Shroomtown Guild sign emblazoned over the doorway, but for Bera, it was a guiding beacon.

With few exceptions, the largest guilds with members numbering in the thousands were either guilds that were created when the game world was designed, or guilds backed by pro teams. The former were guilds that represented cities like Atera Guild or Rindhallow Guild, while the latter were guilds such as Gandharva or Garuda Guild. The majority of the guilds that fell into neither categories were those formed by friends for fun. Those typically had less than twenty members.

Shroomtown Guild was just one of many such guilds. Hasu had thought it would be amusing to name the guild as though it was one of the founding guilds like Atera, so the name was lifted from the surrounding Mushroom Forest.

As she approached the door, Bera slipped on the headset. She clicked on the door, and Leez knocked. A message popped up with the words do you wish to request to join this guild? Barely an instant after Bera had clicked yes a new pop up sprouted with a message reading congratulations, you've been accepted!

Bera chuckled a bit at this. Really, they were the even trying to hide it? She clicked on the door again, and Leez swung it wide open.

"WELCOME BACK!" a mass of voices bellowed from the headset, causing Bera to flinch and turn down the volume.

Half a dozen characters swarmed around Leez.

"Wow you really remade after all!"

"So it's 'Leez' now, huh? Gonna take some getting use to."

"Wow, you chose a pretty gutsy name!"

"Don't worry, you can leech for awhile so you can get back up to level quickly!"

"Ok, ok, everybody! Give her some space! Some space!" someone called out, causing the small crowd to disperse. When the crowd cleared, Leez could see the guild leader, Haas Lehn, waving at her.

In reality, Hasu Park was the infinitely more responsible elder brother of Kazu Park. And in game, Haas continued to be dependable support through and through. Originally, he had planned on being ranged support by playing single sharpshooter double machinist. Then it became evident that no one else in their guild was willing to be anything other than a hotblooded, rush-into-battle type of player. As a result, for his final class allocation, he chose to take up cleric instead of a second machinist.

As someone who played single allocations on Vayu, Brahma, and Visnu, Haas was only able to gain access to the first tier of abilities for each class, and as a result, he wasn't a player who would give flashy performances. But he was reliable, and he played the spread admirably enough.

"Welcome back, Bera!" Haas said. "Hope my brother didn't piss you off too much while he was stalling you."

"Oh, he did, Hasu. And he made it obvious he was stalling too," Leez said.

"W-what?!" Kaz Lehn stuttered. "How was I obvious?" 

Instantly, the crowd turned against him. 

"Ughhh, I knew we should've had Haas do it instead!"

"Was Bera even surprised?" 

Kazu's reputation was his brother's opposite: undependable. His character, Kaz Lehn, was a triple Kali--all three class slots went right into blood knight. The class was supposed to trade their life for strength, and drink the life of the enemy. Unfortunately, Kaz stopped at "trade their life" and received neither strength nor glory in return. Despite Haas' best efforts, Kaz was usually the first to die during dungeon runs.

As Kaz drew the ire of the crowd, Haas again swooped in to save him. "Hey! How about we give Be--Leez--her other surprise." 

"Oh! Right!" The crowd backed off from Kaz and turned back to Leez. Peil Sairofe, the only other guild member responsible enough to use one of his class slots to be a cleric, stepped forward.

"Uhhhh…" Leez stared. 

"Ok, so you've contributed a lot of gold--"

"Most of the gold," Leez corrected.

"Most of the gold," Peil amended, "to the guild. We know you've wanted better equipment for awhile now, and well...we figured since you were restarting from scratch, this would be a good chance to give you some equipment that could grow with you." 

"Wait wait wait," Leez said, excitement rising. "You guys didn't…"

"One of my relatives is pretty good at making silver equipment so--" Although Leez's expression didn't change, everyone could hear Bera's high pitched squealing as she screamed into her headset. Peil raised his voice. "We commissioned you some silver-grade cloth armor."

A notice popped up on Bera's screen. Peil Sairofe sent you a gift! She slammed down on the Accept button and jolted towards the screen.

 Silver-grade equipment. Specially commissioned silver-grade equipment. Bera squealed again. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!! "

She could hear the other laughing at her excitement, and Peil telling her that he would send her the instructions for upgrading the armor later, but it was all background noise to shining distraction that was the silver-grade equipment.

It was bright yellow cloth armor, colored like the down of newly hatched chicks. Despite appearing like a simple shirt and skirt, the defense stats were nearly double that of common level 1 cloth armor, and granted a strength bonus.

Items that could be found in dungeons or by killing monsters were graded white, green, blue, purple and orange. Silver-grade equipment was equipment created by player using raw materials collected in game. The blueprint for their creation was determined by the creator, and required extensive fine tuning and experimentation. As a result, most silver grade equipment was actually trash. But, unlike other equipment, silver-grade equipment could be continually upgraded, meaning that silver-grade equipment would never be outgrown.

For this reason, many tried their hands at equipment creation.  Few could create something better than blue or purple-grade equipment, and the the 0.1 percent that could create something surpassing orange-grade equipment closely guarded their secrets.

From the fact that there was already a stat bonus on the first level, Bera could tell that this was a creation by one of the 0.1 percent. Peil may have said that they used gold she earned, but she knew that whoever made it did it more as a favor to Peil than anything. All the gold in the guild treasury wouldn't have been enough to cover the costs of a commission like this.

 


 

Bera hummed as she had Leez wander into the Mushroom Forest, admiring the yellow cloth armor equipped on her. The day was promising great things. The entire guild was planning to help her level up quickly by letting her leech while they ran dungeons and fought in areas with high leveled monsters. All she had to do was get some mushrooms for potions, and they would be all set. If all went well, she would be able to level up to level 5 before dinner time, allowing her to wear upgraded armor. Kaz and Haas had even gone to Atera to buy the materials needed to complete the first upgrade for her silver-grade armor.

She could hardly remember the last time she had been this excited to play. 

Her good mood began to wear off after 10 minutes of searching and no mushrooms in sight. Without mushrooms, the already featureless Mushroom Forest became the even more featureless Forest.

"Damn big guilds, taking all the mushrooms," Leez muttered. "Just because dungeons refresh in an hour doesn't mean you have to stock up on that many potions!"

It wasn't impossible to find any mushrooms, but Leez was forced to wander ever deeper into Mushroom Forest. Traversing the forest wasn't difficult. The real problem was that Leez could only move so fast, and Bera was impatient.

However, Bera soon found no reason to complain. She saw it out of the corner of screen--a gleaming golden glow. 

Curry Mushrooms!

Orange-grade mushrooms for orange-grade potions! The day returned to being wonderful and lucky. Leez made a mad dash for the patch, head turning this way and that to make that no one else was around to fight her for the mushrooms.

Then she saw him; a player with icy blue skin and sea green hair, standing stock still in the middle of the patch. Bera cursed and forced Leez to a grinding halt.

"Hey, look," Leez said nervously. "We can split this patch, yeah? I'm not going to fight you for all of it..." As if she could as a level 1.

The blue player replied with a voice somehow even more blue than his skin. "What do you want?"

Bera was not the type to enjoy repeating herself. Intimidated or not, she could not help but let irritation slip into her words. "The mushrooms. What else could I be--look, I just said we could split the patch."

The blue player looked down at his feet. "Oh. These." There was a hint of surprise, as though he had no idea that he been standing on hundreds of thousands of gold pieces worth of Curry Mushrooms. "Take them all. I don't need them."

Bera nearly choked. "S-s-seriously?" Lucky day! Lucky day! She glanced at the name floating over the player's head. Gandhal: Level 50. "Gandhal, you're too generous! You ever need anything, you name it and I'll do it, I swear!"

"Don't act so familiar with me, kid."

"I wasn't, I--well...look these are super rare!" Was this guy a that dense? Did he not understand the significance of these mushrooms? Bera shook her head. She didn't hesitate to have Leez run around in circles to collect the patch, but it didn't feel right to not let Gandhal know what he was missing out on. "We're talking orange-grade here! One mushroom can make 5 full recovery potions. I'd eat my arm for one of these! No, I'd eat both arms!"

Suddenly, she heard Gandhal laugh. "You look like an idiot! Just running around in circles! Are you trying to make me dizzy?"

"Did you hear any of what I said?"

"Yeah, kid," Gandhal said dismissively. "Only little level one chickadees get this excited over Curry Mushrooms. You'll get used to it once you play more."

Bera nearly choked again. Use to it ? What kind player was this guy to turn his nose up at orange-grade materials? She instinctively felt that even if she corrected him and told him that she had already played for a few years, he would still scoff and think her inexperienced.

Gandhal sighed. "What a shame it would be if something awful happened on your first day." 

Leez froze. "What do you mean?"

"Quiet, I'm thinking," Gandhal said, sharp edge in his voice. Leez said nothing more and waited. "Hmmm...alright. Let's do it like this then. You should go to Atera for today!"

"Actually, I was planning to go back to the starting villa--"

A crackle of ice sounded and white mist drifted from Gandhal's hands; tell tale signs of the beginnings of an elementalist's spell. "Or you could be killed by me right here."

Not when she might drop her silver-grade armor. "Right! Atera! I should go meet up with my friends." Bera forced out a laugh and cursed herself for ever striking up a conversation with Gandhal. Leez turned tail and ran towards Atera. She only bothered with a quick "goodbye" when she was halfway out of sight.

Gandhal sighed again. "Oh, look how excited new players are." 

"You just let her go?"

"It's her first day playing." He turned to face the other player emerging from among the trees. "I feel bad enough bullying normal players like this. But a completely new player? It's shameful."

The other player's bright red and white armor stood out among the verdant plant life. He wore the heavy armor of a knight, wielded a long battle mage's spear in one hand, and had a enormous launcher's cannon strapped to his back. The name above his head read "Maruna".

Gandhal felt a little weighed down just looking at him.

"Well," Maruna said. "Let's just hope she wasn't one of the ones with the name."

Gandhal gave a short laugh. "The chances of that are slim. Besides, even if she was, we can always kill her and check another day. Enough about this, how is the sweep of the area going?" 

"We've finished up some of smaller guilds in the area. We'll be targeting the ones in the village soon enough, and there should be no problems there."

"I should hope not," Gandhal said. "This is supposed to be the easy part. The others haven't even deigned it worth their time. Atera will be much more troublesome with how many players are in the city."

 "Isn't that a good thing? We'll be able to find avatars with the name faster that way."

"Even we wouldn't be able to survive one vs one hundred. Especially not when the players could be coming from one of the great guilds. " Gandhal pauses, thinking. "No. As I am now, I don't think I could even survive one vs forty if it's against experienced players." 

"Is your hand still injured?" Maruna asked, concerned.

"Because of this avatar ," Gandhal said icily. "Don't be so quick to look down on me."

"...my apologies." 

"Did you look into Atera guild like I asked you to?" 

"Yes," Maruna said, relief for the subject change evident. "There were several triple battle mages with 'Kim' in their name." 

"List them."

"Bap Kim, Fried Kim, Flaming Kim, Babo Kim--"

"Enough. That's him. They're all him." Gandhal made a sound of exasperation. "He works on the game for a living, and he still plays this much? Why can't he just be sick of it like the others already."

"This isn't good. If he gets directly involved, it'll be impossible to disguise the kills as normal pvp. Worse, he could even pull in the company's involvement."

"I'll take care of it."

"You will?" Maruna couldn't help but sound taken aback, but even as the words spilled out he knew that Gandhal would take it as a slight. 

Sure enough, there was heavy pause before Gandhal replied. "He's a simple-minded idiot," he finally said. "I'm sure I can get him to look away for awhile. Regardless, Babo Kim will be my problem. You go take care of the players in the village."

 


 

" Go to Atera for today ," Leez mocked. "Tch. Why should I do what he said?" Her courage--and by extension, disdain--was directly proportional to the amount of distance between Leez and Gandhal. And there was a decent amount of distance between the two, hence her decision to double around back towards Shroomtown Guild. Still, she made sure to keep a wide berth from where she encountered him.

While she hadn't gotten the entire patch, she did manage to get a good number of the curry mushrooms. Overall, she found the trip to the forest satisfactory.

Her good mood had largely returned by the time she reached Shroomtown Guild, enough so that when Leez swung open the front doors, she let out a loud whoop to announce her arrival.

No one greeted her.

Leez turned round and round, and saw nothing but an empty room. "Hello?" she called out. Frowning, Bera guided Leez around the guild. There wasn't much aside from its plain walls and wooden floors. Any gold they made they poured into their avatars or on goods for the guild storage, not on the appearance of the guild. There were at least a few tables, under all of which Leez searched for signs of the other guild members.

Did they all leave without her? Was this another surprise?

With no other options, Leez glanced out the window. A single player, dressed in red, stood outside a fair distance away. Staring back at her. 

His avatar made Bera feel a little weighed down just looking at him.

The player lifted a cannon in his hands and pointed it directly at Leez. Bera heard the endless clicks of the gatling gun before she registered that she was being shot at. Simultaneously, she also realized that this skill would be enough to kill someone as low leveled as her. The camera spun as Leez fell and Bera became disoriented. It felt like minutes, but after a few seconds, Leez came to a stop flat on her back.

What a shame it would be if something awful happened on your first day.  

And now she had been killed. Bera laid there in shock, waiting for the screen to gray with death.

Waiting.

Waiting. 

"How long do you plan to lie there? That player is going to come over here soon."

Bera jolted at the voice. A player who died wasn't able to hear other players. The screen wasn't graying. Leez wasn't dead.

Leez sprang back up.

"Are you an idiot?" the other player hissed. "Get down so he can't see you."

Leez crouched immediately and turned to face the speaker. It was a player named Asha Raihiro . Just from a glance, Bera could tell that Asha was a veteran player. Already level 70, and wearing purple cloth armor with a unique appearance that could only mean silver-grade equipment.

Avatarss expressions typically did not change when a player was just standing still and talking, and it was only fairly recently that the company even added a feature where the talking animation would play if it detected sound from a player's headset. As a result, no matter what words were being said, the avatar's expression would remain the same as one of five default preset expressions.

Bera had chosen a friendly smile for Leez.

Asha's controller had apparently chosen the expression that was somewhere between annoyed and dead. Her voice matched it perfectly.

"I thought that a survivor would be at least somewhat interesting," Asha said, "but to think. You're just some level one fool who can barely even grasp the controls. If I hadn't knocked you down, you'd be back at the revival point right now like everyone else in this guild."

"Revival point?" Bera's surprise was too great to feel insulted. "That one guy out there managed to kill everyone in the guild?"

"Wasn't that obvious?" Asha sighed. "A level one fool who can't grasp the situation either..." 

This time, Bera did feel insulted. "I have a name. And I know you can see it since it's right next to my level ."

"To call you by it would be an insult to Rao Leez." Asha's avatar didn't allow for much facial variation, but her contempt dripped from every word. "It's arrogant of you to choose a name like that. Did you think someone like you could be like him?"

"First I had to listen to Kazu complain when he thought I named myself Kubera. And now you with Leez?" Bera supposed she should feel grateful to Asha, but at this point, she was too incensed to care about anything other than her desire to shock her into silence. "Well I doubt Rao Leez would care, since he's my dad."

The fact had the desired effect. Asha had no retort.

The beautiful silence did not last long. With a loud crash, the red player leapt through the hole left behind by the shot up window. Within that brief moment, he managed to spot Leez still crouched beneath the window, and Asha across from her.

Bera had hoped that he would leap past them, giving Leez time to distance herself. But in one smooth movement, he turned, spear tracing a thin red arc in the air--an arc that would certainly intersect with both Leez and Asha's heads.

Before even she understood what she was doing, Bera initiated a roll and Leez managed to just barely escape the spear's path. It swept over Leez's head and continued toward Asha's.

Bang!

The spear was thrown off its path. Asha held a sharpshooter's revolver in hand, pointed exactly where the spear had been. The moment she confirmed that red player's attack was interrupted, Asha took aim at him instead.

Knights barely flinched when hit, especially those with high quality armor. A basic shot from a sharpshooter's revolver would have almost no effect. The red player ignored Asha's attack and repositioned his spear to strike again. This time, the spear's head sparked white with a battle mage's skill: White Enforcement. The stun time would double if it connected. To avoid being dragged into a combo,  Asha stopped her attacks and leapt backwards.

There was at least some distance between the three now, and Bera could breath. She glanced at the red player's name. Maruna .

With the surprise of being attacked dissipating, and Asha's insults driving the blood to her head, Bera felt emboldened. Maruna. This was the person who killed all of her guildmates. This person, right in front her. Forget being level one, if she was going to die either way, where was the satisfaction in just running until the end? No, for the person who killed her guildmates, even if it was just the basic punch of a level one, Bera burned to strike him just once.

Leez leapt forward. Maruna turned at the noise. Asha made a sound that would've most certainly been the word "idiot" if she had the time to complete words.

One strike and Leez would be dead. But one strike, and she would also be satisfied. Leez swung.

Maruna dodged with ease, moving just far enough away so that she was within the ideal striking range of his spear. He was too fast; Leez could barely follow the spear tip as it stabbed towards her, much less react to it. Before he could make contact, several more gunshots rang out, this time accompanied by a whistle of wind.

The Vayu class's Sickle Bullet: with it's armor piercing effect, even Maruna's armor would be temporarily quartered in effectiveness if hit.

Maruna cancelled his attack and dodged instead.

"Idiot!" Asha said, now that she did have time to complete words. "Run!"

Given the amount of effort that Asha seemed to be putting in to keep her alive, Leez made the snap decision to listen and vaulted out the window. She broke into a sprint towards the forest.

Behind her, she heard more gunshots until there was a dull thud. Leez glanced back to see Asha rolling uncontrolled on the ground from the force of some attack, and Maruna ready to strike again.

Leez almost cried out until she saw a flash shoot out from Asha's still ragdolling avatar, hitting Maruna dead in the chest. The beam was strong enough that even with his heavy armor, he was knocked back several units.

Asha transitioned from her rolling to on her feet in the blink of an eye. In her hands, she had switched out her pistol for a launcher's cannon. "Keep running!" she shouted. She charged and fired several more shots towards the ground in Maruna's general direction, launching dust and debris into the air, obscuring them from view.

By the time the dust cleared, they were gone.

Maruna didn't move immediately. Ding ! The in-game chat popped up with a message.

Did you finish up?

He considered his options. He didn't enjoy leaving things incomplete...but after he had gotten a closer look, that was the player that Gandhal pardoned in the forest. 

Another message alert sounded. Hello?  

Maruna replied. Yes. I didn't find anyone.


 

 

"W-wait up!" Leez shouted. All characters in the game had limited stamina and could only sprint for so long. This didn't change even upon leveling up. Yet despite Leez's head start, Asha had somehow managed to not only catch up, but run ahead of her.

Asha stopped to wait. Before Leez could thank her, Asha spoke instead. "Pathetic. You can't even manage your speed properly. Are you really Rao Leez's child?" 

Ah, of course. How could she forget? Asha spoke in endless insults. "My dad hasn't touched this game in years," Leez said. "And it's not like being good at a game is genetically transferable."

"Clearly. Well, I suppose you can't be completely talentless if you managed to survive that first attack."

Bera blinked. Had Asha just only half insulted her? The latter part could almost be taken as a compliment. "Thanks…?"

There was a brief pause before Asha spoke again. "If you look at your status, does it show your name as Kubera?"

"Huh?" Confused, Bera opened her character menu. The avatar's name was listed as Kubera. She closed the menu, and the name floating above the avatar's head still showed Leez Haias. "What the hell? I thought the glitch went away!" The surprise wore off, and suspicion settled in. Leez looked at Asha.  "How'd you know?"

"You mentioned that a friend thought you had named yourself Kubera during character creation. The same thing happened to a friend of mine, so I thought you might have the same glitch," Asha replied.

"Ah! How'd they fix it?" Leez asked excitedly.

"They contacted the company, but with everything that happened, the developers haven't fixed it yet."

"I guess a small glitch like this would be on the lower end of the priority list right now..." Silence fell again, but Asha didn't move away. Bera hesitated, weighing her pride against her politeness. Finally, politeness won. "Umm...thanks for earlier."

Asha continued to stand in silence. Bera shifted uncomfortably, and Leez cycled through her cheerful idle animations in complete obliviousness.

"Bera!" a muffled voice called, breaking through the silence.

At her mother's shouting, Bera scrambled to remove her headphones. "Yeah?!" she yelled back. 

"Dinner's ready!"

A perfect excuse to leave then. "Thank you, mom," Bera said under her breath. Then, louder, "I'll be down in a second!"

Bera slipped her headset back on and faced Asha again. "So uh, I gotta go now," Leez said. "Thanks for the help, and umm...see you again." She recalled all the things that Asha had said to her up to this point. "Maybe." 

"Do you want to get revenge on that player?" Asha asked suddenly. "The one who attacked your guild."

Bera dropped her hands from her headset. "...yes?" she said uncertainly.

Her thoughts drifted back to the player named Maruna. To how empty the guild had looked. How he had killed her guildmates for no discernable reason. How he had shot at her with no warning. How she burned to strike him even once. "Yes," Leez repeated. "Yes, I would."

"Then meet me in Atera tomorrow morning, in front of the city gates," Asha said. "Level up as much as you can before then.

"Alright--"

"And whatever you do," Asha said in a tone between warning and threat, "don't get yourself killed."

 


 

"--and then he just shot at me. I've never even seen the guy--mm! Wow, the beef turned out great, mom--never even seen the guy before, and he just shoots."

Rao Gu laughed. "Guess even after ten years, there's still players with nothing better to do than things like this."

"I've never met anyone so shameless in game before," Bera said, stuffing her face with food. 

"Just be glad you haven't met anyone like that in real life." 

"If she met anyone like that in real life, she'd be dead," An Gu said. Bera had inherited much of her looks from her mother, but in a strange, somewhat distorted way. An was generally considered quite a beauty, but Bera's appearance had relatives scrambling to append no offense to you when they commented on the the similarities to An.

Rao too, had a bright, pleasant face, so the same relatives couldn't even blame him. All they could say was what a shame . To which they were responded to with a door in the face.

"Slow down Bera, you'll choke eating that fast," An chided.

"Can't!" Bera paused to chew, swallow, then stuff yet more food into her mouth. "Gotta level up as much as I can tonight." More food. "This weekend is dedicated to my revenge!" And yet more. "This girl I met said that she'd help--oh!" Bera paused her shoveling. "Dad, she's a fan of yours!"

"Well I am pretty great," he said, nodding. "But specifically a fan of what?"

"Of Rao Leez!"

"Wow." An's eyes widened slightly. "Rao, weren't you only in the pro leagues for the first season?"

"To have made such a deep impression on her," he said, eyes half closed in concentration and a hand at his chin. "I should be more careful about the influence I have on others." An and Bera rolled their eyes.

"Anyways, thanks for the food mom." The chair skidded as Bera stood. "I'll be back with tales of victory!"

"Good luck," An said. "The dishes will be awaiting your return in the sink."

"Daaaaad," Bera whined.

"Fine, fine," Rao waved his hands towards the stairs. Bera grinned and without further prompting, ran back to her desk and slid in front of her computer. 

An explosion of alerts from the guild's chat room greeted her when she logged back on. All of them shared tales of their quick and awful deaths at the hands of the player named Maruna. The members were still complaining once Leez was back at the guild.

Peil rushed towards her as soon he spotted Leez. "Your armor! Did you drop your armor?" 

"I didn't get killed," Leez said.

"Oh good," Peil said with a sigh of relief. "You didn't run into that bastard."

"No," Leez corrected again, "I did." 

"What?!" Peil's shout drew the attention of the guild members. "How are you still alive?"

"No way, you survived an attack by that guy?" Kaz said, running over. "Geeze, and someone ," he glanced at Peil, "was just telling me about how they couldn't even catch a glimpse of him when they were killed."

"I couldn't!" Peil protested. "I'm telling you, that guy was good. He hid in my blind spots and comboed me until I died!"

Kaz snickered. "You always make fun of me for dying in dungeons, but you went pretty pathetically this time. Bera's level 1 and didn't die."

"Stop making fun of Peil, Kazu," Leez said. "I didn't survive on my own. There was someone else there who helped me escape."

"Must've been some expert...I kind of wish I could meet them," Peil said wistfully.

"No, you don't," Leez deadpanned. Peil and Kazu gave her a look that said didn't they save you?  "Trust me you don't." A pause. "But, you might anyways."

"Because…?" Kaz said. 

"Because I've decided I'm going to kill Maruna for this, and she offered to help me do it."

There were a few gasps around the room. Some muttered protests and warnings; others cheered for her success. All helped her level grind through the night, until Bera felt her eyes too tired to remain open.

The next morning, Bera barely logged on before a private message popped up.

Atera. East gate. Now.