It was cold.
The mist was thick and heavy on the shoulders of five young hopeful girls. Disoriented moans carried through the still air. Incomprehensible words were spoken from a distance and whispered on each of their ears, sending the tiny hairs on the back of their necks crawling.
It would have driven them insane had they not faced the same situation before. Experience truly was a great mentor. These Adventurers focused on their own movements and listened to their own footsteps, words, and skills. They had learned the first time that it was the easiest way to deflect the illusion set upon them by the spirits or beings residing within this dreadful place.
"Wait! I'm not done buffing yet!" GoldenFlower, known as Rapunzel in the real world, scrambled to her feet to reach the feisty monk in time to cast a barrier around her. "We talked about this!"
"It's okay! I can handle it!" Ignoring the warning of their party's priest, Anna who goes by the username Sandwich threw her entire arm backward and gathered a huge amount of energy for a powerful punch. "Let's finish this, sideburns! This is for last time!"
Precision was important and as usual, hers were impressive and markable. This was her revenge for having been killed by the same undead redheaded knight who looked suspiciously like her twin brother and she didn't want to mess it up. She was about to release the massive wave of energy when a pop-up appeared in her line of sight.
"Anna!" GoldenFlower panicked and hastily murmured a spell to save the girl from another mess.
"Justice for the Queen!" The auburn-head man's sword sliced through the thick mist, attempting to take Anna with it when an arrow struck his arms.
"Not on my watch!" The Archer on the Fighting Princesses party, BearMighty lowered her bow and gritted her teeth, gauging if that attack finished the monster off.
"Your Majesty, forgive me." His last words were followed by a dreadful moan that rang in the girls' ears for a full minute.
Anna shuddered. "That was something."
"Something?! You could've been seriously injured if Merida didn't see you!" GoldenFlower frantically gestured to the curly-haired woman already preparing her next arrow. "This dungeon wiped us before! We need to work together and pay attention if we want to succeed!"
"I am paying attention!" Sweat dotted Anna's brow when the priest's glare didn't subside. "Okay, fine! Maybe I was distracted. But only a little! I'm still here; that's a win for us! Or me. Wait, that's for us because I'm the front liner!"
"Which makes you important." RedMermaid tucked a harp under her arms. "You gave us a scare. We already used up all our tickets to enter. Thanks to Punzie and Merida, you're not in Arendelle's chapel now."
"Honestly, I was about to see if I could throw a spear in time to reach that knight." NimbleRaven raised the weapon and sent it flying towards the unaware ghoul by the distance. "He was the one that finished you off during our last run, right?"
"Please, I could've killed him this time if I wasn't distracted!"
GoldenFlower fixed her braids and crossed her arms. "Let me guess. Elsa."
"That's not really guessing, is it?" NimbleRaven smirked.
Remembering what nearly caused this run to be another failure, Anna turned around for some privacy and sat on the old, dead soil. She quickly opened the notification button and her mood rose up a notch when her girlfriend's username appeared to be online.
Frostbite: Where are you?
The question sapped a little of Anna's positive energy. She was inside an underground cemetery, a hard version of a new dungeon installed by the game master just recently. Like 'a month ago' recently. The Fighting Princesses had spent the past weeks hunting and searching for new types of equipment in order to wipe the raid as easily as it had wiped them the first time.
Sandwich: Uhm.. we're inside the Misty Tombs
Frostbite: Didn't you run that when it first came out?
Frostbite: Should you be trying it again? You lost half of your points the last time! D:
Sandwich: It's okay! We're wiping the first room of the second floor easily right now!
Frostbite: You're still on the second floor?
Sandwich: Uhh yes?
Frostbite: When did you start the run?
Sandwich: About thirty minutes ago
Frostbite: Anna, the dungeon has a time limit.
Soft and well-groomed, for an avatar, fringes fell upon Anna's forehead when her headgear went loose. She huffed and unceremoniously tucked them in again before typing a response.
Sandwich: I know :O
Frostbite: Who's the party leader?
A beat passed before a similar notification rang from GoldenFlower's direction. The girls watched the curious priest as she read through her messages.
RedMermaid was browsing her menu when she blinked. "Oh!" The Bard sang. "Finally, a magic dealer!"
Before Anna could ask, there was another notification—from their party chat this time.
Frostbite: I'm coming.
The barbarian's last words were "At last, I can see Sven again."
Frostbite huffed and stood tall as she waved a hand in the air. Bright blue sparkles followed it and her book dissolved into particles, later to be summoned again for another fight. The four girls with Anna looked on in awe of how easy the sorceress was able to wipe away about ten spirits at once.
BearMighty nudged Anna on the shoulder. "You didn't tell me Frostbite is this strong!"
"Uh, I told you a thousand times." Anna tied a pouch containing loots around her belt. "You just didn't believe me."
"Let's be serious about this. Can you blame me? I thought you were talking highly about her because you're in love!" BearMighty grumbled.
"You need to go out there and get laid." NimbleRaven winked at the growl BearMighty sent her way. "Still, Merida's right. It's rare for someone to pick sorcerer as their first job."
"Well, this isn't her first MMORPG. If you saw her collection, you'll be surprised! She was the one who introduced this game to me," Anna said.
"If a gamer introduces a game to you and asks you to try it, you must be someone special." NimbleRaven snorted when red colorized the monk's cheeks. "This game freaks me out a little. It feels so real sometimes."
"That's the reason we bought it, right? We wanted to see how real it is." RedMermaid busied herself with her inventory, sorting out her weapons.
"For a thing made of data, we do act pretty much how we do in the real world. Whoever heard of avatars blushing?" BearMighty huffed a quiver on her back.
"Uh, girls, I'm right here? I'm not blushing! This is just me, taking consumables. It's a side-effect." Anna coughed when the three gave her stupid looks. She gracefully ignored them when she noticed Elsa's avatar approach them. "Hey, baby!"
"Anna." And okay, her friends were right. It was amazing how the sorceress' avatar reddened. No matter how many times Anna showed affection, whether it was in-game or the real world, it was always easy to make Elsa flustered. "How long do we have?"
"Aww, my baby is changing the topic! We sh—YEOW!" Anna shrieked and tried to free herself from the ice starting to surround her. "Cold, cold, cold! I yield! I yield! I'm sorry!"
"We still have around fifteen minutes to finish this." GoldenFlower turned off her menu as Frostbite released Anna from her icy grip. "I'm surprised you are not on cooldown for this dungeon, Elsa."
"I haven't found the time to play. It's been busy the past few weeks." Frostbite glanced around the room. "We're near the boss. We might be able to make it."
Wiping away the last remnants of ice on her clothes, Anna cheered. "We will!"
"Anna, don't do anything reckless. You are going to tank that thing; that's all. Leave the damage to us," Frostbite said. "I know you want to be a damage dealer, but you can't right now, understand? You can't afford to fail again."
"That's what we have Punzie for!"
"A priest's job is to heal and support, yes. But the other members should know their roles as well. Take into consideration that all skills have cooldowns. Depending on the equipment you're wearing, it could be fast or it could be slow."
"I've already told her that." GoldenFlower sighed. "I'm sure you already did, too."
Frostbite pinched the bridge of her nose. "One warning, Anna. This is all I'm going to give you. If you do something that's not in our plan, I swear I'm not going to and let anyone else save you this time."
"Y-You'll let me die? Lose all my points?" Anna blinked her eyes slowly, hoping that her avatar was cute enough to get her what she wants. In the real world, this trick always worked when she wanted to eat chocolate before dinner.
Frostbite stuck her nose up in defiance. "That's not going to work here."
"Oh come on! Being a tank is boring!"
"In time, sweetie. In time." Sparkles appeared around the sorceress' hand, once again summoning her book. "When you're experienced enough, you can be a damage dealer for as long as you want. But right now, we are pressed for time and I am the only who can deal significant damage."
"Normally, I hate it when someone slams that truth in my face, but Frostbite's right. We're cutting it pretty close to the time limit," NimbleRaven agreed.
"Call me Elsa," Frostbite explained. "Any friend of Anna and Rapunzel is a friend of mine."
"Uh, sure." NimbleRaven jutted her hip to one side and placed a hand on it. "Call me Esme then; short for Esmeralda. Seems fair, don't you think?"
Anna rushed in front of Frostbite and stretched her arms wide to shield her from the gypsy's seduction prowess. "Hey, hey, hey! No seducing my girl!"
"Oh believe me. I don't need to use a skill to make someone interested."
"Anna, are you jealous of an avatar?" Frostbite wrapped her arms around the feisty monk, hugging her from behind. "It will take more than this for her to win me over." With a sly smirk, she added, "I have high resistance."
"While this scene is amusing, I hate to be the deliverer of bad news, but we only have ten minutes left." RedMermaid twirled a finger on her red locks. "Call me Ariel, by the way. And that wild-looking woman over there is Merida."
With a suppressed grin, Frostbite placed a delicate kiss on Anna's cheek before letting her go and facing her friends. "It's nice to finally meet you. We'll give proper introductions next time. For now, we have a raid to finish!"
"I'll get you for this," Anna grumbled.
"GAH! No, no, no! Shit! GAHHH! No!"
In her frustration, Anna ignored the loud banging on her door. She refused to believe she died in that last fight! They were so, so close! If she was able to throw that punch, it would've been over! If Punzie just healed her in time, then—no, it wasn't Punzie's fault.
After five attempts of trying to log back in and failing, Anna snatched the VR helmet and all electronics attached to her off. She rushed to her bedside and grabbed her phone before typing a message furiously.
Anna: Elsa, what the heck!
She remembered it clearly. Punzie's hand was stretched to her direction, mumbling a healing spell when Elsa used her own to cancel it. The priest was surprised and wasn't able to react immediately and the next thing Anna knew, she was logged out of the game.
It was the penalty for losing all her points.
Every player could gather points easily by killing random monsters. The higher the level of the monster, the higher the points a player would earn. Anna... sucked at fighting high-leveled mobs, but she loved being a damage dealer. Elsa warned that a monk might not be a good character to start off with, especially when it was her first MMORPG. Being someone who would rather learn through experience than read guides, Anna didn't listen.
It wasn't that bad. She learned that her cousin, Rapunzel recently bought the game because her boyfriend, Eugene apparently needed a healer. They also met Merida, Ariel, and Esmeralda who were just as new as they were. The difference between them was that they didn't mind running low-level dungeons together, whereas Anna wanted a challenge. It was the main reason why they had more points than she does.
As a penalty for losing too many points, a player would be banned for a week. Why? Anna had no idea. Sure it might not seem much, but Anna was finally starting to get the gist of it! She was so close! They could've finished that run together if Elsa had let Punzie heal her!
Another bang. "Anna, will you shut up?!"
"Go to hell, Hans!"
"The fuck?" Hans opened the door and received a pillow on his face. "Ow, what the—?!" He picked the pillow from the ground and threw it back to his sister. "What's gotten into you?!"
"None of your business!"
This was it. Her life was over. She lost all her points and would need to kill mobs again in a few days if she wanted to join dungeon runs with her friends. All because Elsa wouldn't let Punzie heal her! How unfair was that?!
"Elsa, you idiot."
"Is that any way to talk about your girlfriend?"
Jumping to her feet, Anna turned to the door with eyes wide and disbelieving. There Elsa was, standing with her arms crossed and pressed against the doorframe. A guilty smile could be traced on her lips.
Hans, Anna's twin brother scratched one of his sideburns. "Okay, whatever's going on, you two settle it. I'm trying to review."
"I'm sorry, Hans. Good luck." Elsa shut the door the moment Hans left.
Anna was elated. She was beyond happy to see her girlfriend standing in her room because how long has it been? A week? A month?
Elsa was a university student in the neighboring city after graduating from the same High School as Hans and Anna last year. It was why Anna always logged in. She knew that because of Elsa's love for games, no matter how busy she was, she would always try to find the time and play. They didn't, after all, have the means to come and see each other every day.
But that wasn't the point.
Anna frowned. She crawled under the covers and didn't pay the subtle thump of her VR helmet to the ground any mind. Footsteps tapped on her carpeted floor. A second later, there was another thump coming from her bedside drawer. Something that seemed a little heavy. Elsa probably placed her helmet there.
"Are you mad?" Elsa asked as she took a spot on Anna's bed.
The sheets shuffled and a silent gasp rushed out of Anna's lungs the moment a body pressed against her awfully-covered one. "E-Elsa, get off! You're heavy!"
The blonde hummed. "Am I?"
"You're sulking." Like how she did in the virtual world, Elsa wrapped her arms around Anna's curled up form. The difference in warmth was obvious and okay fine, this was... Anna missed this. "I told you I won't let anyone save you if you ran off again."
"I'm banned for a week."
"I was just getting the hang of it!" Anna wiggled out of her girlfriend's grip, as tempting as it was to stay in that position. She popped her head out of the covers and looked at Elsa with a pathetic, tear-stained frown. "I could've killed it!"
"You let me die."
"You let me die knowing I'm running low on points! Why did you do that?!"
Elsa delicately wiped a tear from the redhead's eye and asked with a voice barely a whisper: "Are you that addicted to the game now?"
"That's not it." Anna once again shoved Elsa's hand away and wiped her own tears. Ah, this was stupid. Crying over a game? She didn't even consider playing before she learned that Elsa was into them. "It's the only thing we can do for fun now that we don't study in the same school. We're a city apart!"
The covers were lowered to her hips. She shivered at the cold, familiar hand that caressed her arm. Down, down, and up it went until it stopped around her wrist. Gently, it removed her hand from her tear-sodden face and blotched cheeks.
"I like it this way. I don't want to spend my break playing MMO this time. I want to spend it in the real world. With you."
"W-What? Break?" Anna blinked stupidly, two droplets rolling downwards.
Anna jumped from her bed and rushed to the calendar propped on her wall. She scanned the dates she had marked before and didn't find any indication that Elsa had a break this time of the month. Turning around, she narrowed her eyes at the blonde acting innocent on her bed.
"You're not lying, are you?"
A snort. "Really, Anna? You're that angry? I thought I was the gamer here?"
"You didn't tell me you were on a break!"
"That would ruin the surprise, don't you think? Besides..." Elsa walked over to Anna and grabbed her waist, pressing it against her own. "You didn't react when I called your name. I was wondering what you were doing so I decided to log in using the VR downstairs. I'm glad Hans also plays it."
"What?! You were downstairs?!"
"As I was saying." Elsa shrugged. "Anyway, we got a weapon from that raid that can only be equipped by a monk. I'll give it to you in a week."
"GAH! I'm still mad at you for that run!"
An affectionate grin made Anna's face explode into a massive blush. "I'm sure you are."
If the avatars react the same way as the players do in the real world, Anna wondered if there would be a glitch with hers if they were still in-game. It felt like forever since she had seen Elsa's face this close, wearing that charming grin that captured her heart in the first place. It had been so long since she was surrounded by Elsa's unique intoxicating scent. This close, and not behind some character made of data or a pixelated moving image with a distorted voice.
"You owe me a date," Anna grumbled.
"I owe you more."