“Where were you when it happened?”
“I don’t know! I can’t remember…”
“Really? I can’t either, but…”
“…do you think we were at home?”
“I don’t know, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I can’t tell you.”
Seungcheol couldn’t remember what he had been doing when it happened either. One moment the server was still patching, and he was watching the countdown like a hawk. The Japanese server had patched an hour ago and there had been some problems, but…
…but he had logged in? He was sure he had logged in.
He carefully looked down at himself, then around. His fingers trembled in the ebony gauntlets; it felt as if his heart wanted to beat out of his chest as he saw that he was fully clad in the Einherjar armour he had won just last week. He could see it, feel it, touch it… scratch that, he could smell it, something that had never happened before. Being in the game had never happened before either, no matter how much he had wished it. There was grass underneath him and the remnants of a thunderstorm in the air, rendering it muggy and hot. There was… there was…
There was a voice in his head.
::Seungcheol! Seungcheol, can you hear me?::
He nearly wet himself with shock, which would have been a terrible thing in armour. It was Joshua’s voice, really in his head, not just programmatically as he had experienced before. The Summoner definitely didn’t sound his normal gentle self; hell, he sounded as shocked as Seungcheol felt.
How does one even speak in their head?
::…Joshua?:: It felt so strange, like a loud thought, but something in him clicked as if it had always done this. One hand lifted to ward light from shining in his eyes, and a menu appeared in front of his face. Ornate, golden, listing his stats an inventory, making his eyebrows arch.
Name: Choi Seungcheol
::Oh thank you sweet baby Jesus, are you okay? Where are you? Still where you logged out last night?::
::I am… have you been able to reach anyone else?:: With a miserable feeling Seungcheol tapped his friends list, wincing at the number of greyed-out names, hoping against hope…
He sat down, exhaling hugely, when he saw the names of his guild all in green.
::I’ve been able to reach Jihoon and I woke up next to Minghao, we’re at that weapons shop we normally go to… I’m still working on the others, I’ve no idea where Wonwoo and Seungkwan ran off to. I…::
A voice pulled Seungcheol out of his reverie, and he blinked up at a tall Ritian in front of him, the tallest, thinnest one he had ever seen. Black hair, a golden symbol on his forehead and imperious, cool blue eyes. Confused, he made for his feet again, leaning away from the bottle it was holding out to him.
::Jisoo, hold on a bit, there’s someone here…:: Firming his jaw, he looked him over again, from the tips of spiky black hair to the massive staff he had slung across his shoulders. “Do I know you?”
The man rolled his eyes but nodded, pulling him his stats as well.
Name: Jeon Wonwoo
Spec: High Healer
There was nothing beyond that, not that he expected it, but it made him boggle at the tall, tall man. “What the hell?” he got out. “The last time I saw you, you were barely up to my chest. Did you drink a growth potion, Wonwoo-ya?”
Wonwoo rolled his eyes again. “This is what I normally look like, barring the eyes and the runes on my body,” he said softly, voice much deeper than normal. “I’ve only been awake for a few moments, but it felt odd, so I went for an appearance reset potion. At least my limbs feel the correct length now. Here, I kept all the ones we originally got. This is yours.”
Seungcheol blinked again, looking down at the small bottle.
“You’ll feel less strange afterwards,” Wonwoo added. “We can’t be loitering around here. There’s trouble, and the longer it lasts the weirder it’ll feel.”
Seungcheol had no issue believing that their Cleric could feel the need for adjustment immediately. For whatever reason, he spent the majority of his time online in the game, and they had built up trust over the last year of raiding together. Shrugging, he took the potion and popped off the cork, slugging it down. ::I found Wonwoo, he’s here with me. Just keep the others there, we’ll come to the shop.::
His body felt odd, malleable for a second, before he became aware that the armour was resizing to him, not to mention the massive sword across his back; he stretched and turned until his back popped. “I told Jisoo we’d meet him at the weapon shop we frequent. I… what?”
Wonwoo’s mouth twitched into a small smile. “Just didn’t think I’d be taller than you,” he murmured, and turned so that they could stroll away.
Seungcheol was the one to roll his eyes this time, falling into step next to his cleric. “What’s the trouble?” he asked, before eyebrows arched the next moments. “And why is that staff on your back only giving me a row of question marks when I try to spec it?”
Hastening his steps, Wonwoo cast a quick look his way. “It’s Sacrament-class,” he explained. “It was attached to my account when I woke up, and it refuses to be unequipped. All that came with it was a note saying ‘You won.’ I don’t know what I won, or who I won it from, but the name I get is Gesshoku, so I think it’s a new item from the Japanese server.” He took a deep breath, breathing out on a small cough. “And the trouble is I can’t find Seungkwan-ah and my map seems to be gone?”
Seungcheol felt each fact like a body blow, grimacing at the end of it. “Let’s get to the weapon shop,” he said tightly. “It’ll be better to have everyone around.”
Fifteen minutes later, ensconced in one of the back rooms of the Magnolia Forest Arms and Armour, they huddled around the table.
“This is like one of those racial jokes,” the shortest of them said. “A Wolf Fang, a Human and a Ritian walk into a bar…”
Seungcheol felt his back teeth want to start grinding. “Not now, Jihoon-ah,” he murmured. Sitting back, trying not to feel emasculated because he was sipping water, he looked over his little guild. What was left of it in any case. “So it looks like we’re the only members of Crimson Crescent barring Seungkwan-ah…” He felt silent at the cleared throat from their Chinese member.
“Titan’s Snap,” Minghao reminded gently, and received a high-five of approval from Jihoon.
“Oh, come on, seriously…” Seungcheol began.
Jisoo smiled slightly. “You did lose in that contest,” he reminded gently.
Seungcheol grimaced. “Fine,” he got out. “Titan’s Snap. It looks like we’re the only members here in Seoul. The sooner we find Seungkwan-ah and find out what happened, the better. My friends list is decimated, I don’t think there’s more than ten percent online on there. Have you checked all your weapons and armour and skills?”
Minghao nodded. “Still the same,” he confirmed. “I was able to gank a boar outside the city by sheer brute force. Most everyone is wandering around like lost sheep though, and I’ve not been able to raise anyone on my home server. I’ve not even been able to go through the Gate to Beijing. If you ignore the way we’re actually in the game, it seems pretty much the same… beyond how everyone is walking around looking like they lost their lives.”
“They have,” Jisoo said gently. “As far as we know.”
Jihoon sat forward. “My stuff is more or less the same too,” he muttered. “But… well… look. Channie’s on the server too, and I’ve not seen him so far, and he’s not answering my calls either.”
Wonwoo frowned. “Channie… is he that Samurai you party up with sometime? The one that you said was a hard carry?”
“Yeah,” Jihoon agreed. “Because he’s my little dongsaeng.”
Silence fell as they sat absorbing that.
“Your dongsaeng?” Minghao finally asked. “I’m your dongsaeng too, what’s the issue?”
Jihoon squeezed his eyes shut. “No, he’s really my dongsaeng. Like… born to the same mother and father? He’s about three years younger than I am… 99-line. And he’s not answering, which means he’s being stubborn or far away, I don’t know which one. He had a habit of playing on the Japanese server, so thank goodness he didn’t get trapped there.”
Seungcheol took a deep breath. “Okay. Seungkwan-ah and Chan-ssi, then…”
“Hang on,” Jisoo interrupted, staring down at his lap. “I’ve got an idea. Wonwoo-ya, you said your map was blanked out?”
Wonwoo nodded. “I can’t get the minimap to appear.”
Jisoo frowned. “Nor me, but that’s where it gets strange. I don’t have the town map, but remember that map of all the jjimjilbang I once won in the Agate Island event?” He looked up at them, soft eyes large. “It’s still here on some kind of HUD. I was trying to call it up to see if I could see anything on the country map, and I noticed the names on there. Maybe it’s a mod thing?”
Wonwoo shot him one look before he scrambled out and went running outside, leaving them behind.
“…maybe he really wanted to go to get a bath?” Jihoon said sulkily. “Lanky, intelligent bastard… hey, I wonder if my DPS is still the same?”
“Can’t be,” Minghao said promptly. “You’re like a kid right now.”
Seungcheol pinched his eyes shut and started praying for guidance as the fight started.
It was still going when Wonwoo returned with a veritable armful of maps, but it was silenced neatly as he tossed them on the table, pulled more out of his inventory and promptly swayed, coughing like the blazes.
Seungcheol slowly slid his water over. “You went to buy maps?” he asked quizzically. “Why?”
Guzzling half the cup of water, Wonwoo took a deep breath. “Jisoo’s map is still there.” He paused to look at them. “Don’t you get it? Jisoo’s map, which is an actual item, is still there. We’ve always been too lazy to buy them, they were meant for Landers and noobs anyway. In-game mapping was far more superior. But now…”
Jisoo was the first to catch on. “But now, it might be that these are the only way to tell where you’re going, unless you have a Cartographer as a friend, and you’ve not drawn one in way too long.”
Wonwoo nodded furiously. “I cleaned out the shop of every kind of map he had, the highest quality he had. He was arguing with his wife, so I got a good price too. I just didn’t have space for extra supplies.”
Jihoon frowned. “The dude was arguing with his wife?” he questioned. “Since when?”
“Does it matter? Someone try and load a map!”
Seungcheol looked around their little circle, shrugged and sorted through the pile, picking up the first town map he saw. He opened it slowly, but it wasn’t even half-open before it fuzzed out of being, disappearing into mist. In front of his eyes, hovering like a map on a HUD, lines and names appeared, bringing up the familiar districts and shops and landmarks he had always known. “Map off,” he said with fascination.
It disappeared, then returned to a ‘Map on’. “It’s working,” he breathed. “Quick, sort them and learn them.”
The group dove into the maps, and barely a few moments later Jisoo gave a cry of relief. “Daejeon, he’s in Daejeon!”
Wonwoo breathed out a slow sigh of relief. “Can you try and contact him again now that you know?” he asked.
Jisoo promptly closed his eyes and concentrated.
Seungcheol, watching him, felt almost as if he could feel that attempt like a wave in his mind, lapping out further and further and further…
::..ng hyung hyung hyung HYUNG!::
From the look on their faces, everyone heard that.
“Got him,” Jisoo said smugly. “Took me a while to find the party channel, I added you in.”
Seungcheol:: Kwannie? Is that you?
Seungkwan:: Hyung! Oh thank sweet fuck, I’ve been calling for ages! Where have you been?
Seungkwan:: Hyung I don’t care about language right now, I’m trapped in fucking Daejeon! Can you guys come and get me? I’m trapped in the Tombs of Time dungeon with a bunch of casuals, hyung, you should see them, they’re … really casual!
Jihoon:: How did you get there, Seungkwan-ah? The Tombs of Time is only level 80, you should be waltzing through there.
Seungkwan:: I don’t know, hyung, everything’s messed up! The bosses aren’t the same, the mechanics are messed up and every time we make a run for it we get killed and spawn back in the beginning of the level! Beyond one guy there’s no one that’s above level 80! I’ve lost all my money already respawning… and the ‘Call to Home’ spell isn’t working! And I didn’t just want to leave them here…”
“Daejeon,” Seungcheol said out loud. “We can make that in a day if we go griffin-backed.”
Minghao:: Why were you doing hard carry for casuals?
Jisoo:: Are they part of a guild? Can their guild mates maybe get them out?
Seungkwan:: I don’t know, I can’t remember why I’m in here! I’m just… in here! With them!
Seungcheol:: Kwannie, concentrate. Do they have other guild members that they can call to help them? We can get to you in a day, can they get you out faster?
Seungkwan:: Sorry hyung… Jisoo-hyung. I asked, this is all they have in their guild, they say they’re just a bunch of friends hanging together? They’re some kind of weird support guild. Atelier Destiny or something.
Jihoon’s eyes bulged out and he sat straighter from where he was going through his spell list on the sly.
Jihoon:: Atelier Destiny? Seungkwan-ah, is there a Bard with them, name of Lee Seokmin? Hell, I can’t remember what his in-game name was but he’s got a nose almost like a swordfish and…
Seungkwan:: Hyung, how did you know? Everyone’s looking at me like I’m an oracle now… is he family?
Jihoon:: He’s a cousin. Mother’s sister’s child. Shit, I didn’t even thing to check his name. Ask him if he’s heard from Channie.
Jihoon:: Just ask.
Seungkwan:: Hyung, he says no, but last he heard of him he was down in Busan doing the Tide King’s Palace.
Around the table eyes slammed open and the small group stared worriedly at each other. The Tide King’s Palace wasn’t a popular dungeon, nor was it extremely high-level, though it had some of the best weapon skin drops in the game. The place was too labyrinthine, too complicated… enough to put off most Adventurers despite the rumours of a phantasmal-class weapon hidden somewhere in it. There was only one recorded clear for it, a guild somewhere in Oceania; beyond them, no one had even cleared the second level.
Seungkwan:: Hyung. The guy in charge on this side, he’s a Hwarang, right? He says if you rescue us, they’ll go with us to Busan. He says they really need to get out of here because their Monk is having real problems with his legs, and he’s a Kicker…
“We have to,” Jisoo said softly. “We need to rescue Seungkwan anyway, and it’d be nice to have a guild owing us, even if they’re lower-level. They might not stay lower-level.”
Seungcheol, looking at the other three, received a round of nods.
Seungcheol:: Sit tight, Kwannie, we’re coming. We’ll be there in a day and fight our way down.