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Kairi booted up her PC and chewed her bottom lip with worry and anticipation. She had lost track of time at work and had rushed home as quickly as she could. She didn't want to let everyone down by being late to the game. As soon as the computer's welcome screen was up and her colorful desktop background displayed, she clicked on a sword icon to open Heart of Worlds.

That's right. 25-year-old Kairi Uchida was playing an online game. An MMORPG to be exact. Others might think she's too old for games, but you can never be too old to enjoy video games, especially with online friends. After a grueling 9 hours at the office, she needed to let go and immerse herself in the fantasy world of Heart of Worlds, a medieval online game very much like Runescape or World of Warcraft.

Kairi had joined the Kingdom Hearts clan a few months ago and already felt like she had a home with the other members. Her last clan had dissolved after several players slowly left the game over time due to real life responsibilities or just wanting to try something new and different in another gaming world. Kingdom Hearts was much smaller than her last clan, consisting of only herself, Fainn, Geir and a couple of other members that weren't online much. Fainn and Geir played often at the same time that Kairi was available, which worked for her. She was also pretty sure the two guys knew each other in real life, but they didn't really talk about IRL things...

Finally, the game interface popped up, ready for Kairi to type in her username and password.

Welcome to Heart of Worlds!

Username: Ariae

Password: ********

Loading...

New Message from: Fainn

Ari, where the hell are you? We need you if we're gonna win this.

Smiling slightly at her in-game nickname which was just a shortened version of her avatar's name, Kairi sent back a private message to Fainn, silently praying she hadn't missed it. A few seconds later he came back with a quick reply.

[Fainn]: OTW to Thebes for the 3-headed dragon. Can you make it??

[Ariae]: OMW, teleporting now.

She cast a teleportation spell on her character and moved her to Thebes. Thebes was a poor city in Heart of Worlds and seemed to always be in danger of big enemies. A newsletter was sent out yesterday from the game developers to let all players know that an enormous three-headed dragon would be paying the town a visit. Who was brave enough to fight the fire-breathing beast? Kairi and her gaming friends of the Kingdom Hearts clan were.

Kairi's avatar landed in Thebes and was thrust into the clan chat, a chat only shared between clan members when they were all in the same location together.

Ariae joined the clan chat.

Fainn joined the clan chat.

Geir joined the clan chat.

[Fainn]: I got melee.

[Geir]: Maging.

[Ariae]: I'm ranging then.

Kairi quickly switched out her character's light iron armor for a fire-proof brown leather set and swapped her long sword for a high level bow. She equipped her best arrows as the other two also switched into their equipment for the fight: Fainn into a heavy set of black armor and double battle axes and Geir into a set of purple fire-proof robes and a scepter that glowed blue in color - probably water-based to counter the fire-breathing powers of the three-headed dragon Kairi assumed.

The small group of 3D medieval clothed characters came upon the large three-headed dragon just as another group of players were leaving the arena. Each of the fleeing players had 3 health left and were running for a safe zone, an area where the dragon could no longer attack them. Kairi watched Fainn's avatar down a fire-proof potion quickly before moving into the battle area which was marked with a pulsing orange circle to signify that their characters would be within the dragon's destructive reach.

[Fainn]: What a bunch of noobs. We got this.

[Ariae]: Everyone got food? HP potions?

[Geir]: Yep.

[Fainn]: Ari, find a safe spot to range. Geir, heal me while I melee this drag.

And with that, Kairi watched their clan leader Fainn run up to the beast and hit it with his battle axes causing a -300HP to pop up over the dragon in red text. Its health bar appeared and showed the damage dealt so far. "This might take awhile," Kairi sighed out loud to herself.

Wanting to equally pull her weight in the fight, Kairi looked for a "safe" spot within the battle zone and then moved her character carefully behind a rock so the beast could not reach her with its claws or tail, but her arrows would still find their mark; unfortunately her character could still get hit by its fiery breath. Hopefully her fire-proof leather armor could deter some of the damage. She set her attacking method to 'rapid' and let the arrows fly. All she could do at that point was watch as Fainn and Geir fought up close and personal with the beast. She also kept an eye on the dragon's movements, making sure she could run to another spot for safety if need be.

Fainn tried dodging the dragon's fire breath while hoping to hit its health points down with his special attacks. The fire-proof potion he drank would only keep him immune for a short amount of time before he would take the full amount of damage from the dragon's fire breath. Geir tried his best to follow him while casting healing spells on Fainn and throwing water blasts at the dragon. He was doing his best to also not get hit himself. His fire-proof robes were much like Kairi's leather armor - it would block some of the damage but not all of it. Just as the dragon's health bar reached the halfway point, another Kingdom Hearts clan member joined them just outside the battle area.

Mika joined the clan chat.

[Mika]: Hey guys!

[Geir]: STFU. Drag.

[Mika]: Fainn? Are you busy?

[Fainn]: Yeah.

[Mika]: PM me.

Kairi rolled her eyes. Mika was a girl who obviously had a huge crush on Fainn. Although, she couldn't blame her. Fainn was a really nice and friendly guy. She almost wished she knew him in person... Wait. Kairi shook her head and told herself to stop. This was a game. Fainn could literally be anyone. She would have no idea since they never discussed their ages or jobs or locations. The only information Kairi had about Fainn was that he was a man and that there was a six hour time difference between them. Which was also the same information she had on Geir. Nothing to go on and no reason to have a silly crush on Fainn like Mika did.

Geir seemed to pick up on the crush before anyone else had, and he could be downright rude to the girl. Telling her to shut the fuck up probably wasn't the nicest way to handle the situation, but it was kind of obvious that the three of them had their hands full with the three headed dragon. Speaking of... Kairi looked up to check on its HP. It was almost dead! Looks like between her arrows, Geir's water blast spells, and the heavy hits from Fain had helped drain the dragon's HP faster than she thought.

With a final hit from Fainn, the three-headed dragon collapsed to the ground. A text box popped up signifying their victory and congratulating them. The three members of the KH clan all ran over to collect their rewards from the chest that had replaced the dragon's body. Kairi received a new set of unique armor, 500,000 gold, and a lump of experience in ranging. "Woohoo!" She punched the air and wiggled in her office chair as it spun her around in celebration. This high was what kept her coming back to Heart of Worlds and her new clan. Ever since she joined Kingdom Hearts, the clan was always doing something together like this: fighting a Big Bad, solving puzzles, or going on quests. This kind of adventuring helped cure the anxiety of her long work days. All that stress would fade away as she spent more and more late afternoons with Fainn and Geir. Kiari set her hands on the edge of her desk to stop her chair from spinning around once more and turned her attention back to her PC to congratulate her clan mates.

[Fainn]: Good job guys!

[Geir]: Yesssss! Got exp in magic!

[Ariae]: Grats everyone! :)

[Mika]: PM me Fainn.

[Fainn]: Mika whatever it is, just say it in the cc.

[Mika]: I can't say this in clan chat...

[Geir]: She just wants to confess dude. Mika, if ya want him so bad, just say so.

[Mika]: ...

[Geir]: Maybe she just needs some of that sexting or cybering shit or whatever the kids say nowadays.

Kairi felt her cheeks heat up at the mention of role-playing sexual experiences over a game like Heart of Worlds. This kind of behavior was new from Geir but not completely out of character if she was being honest with herself. And she had been a teenager not that long ago who had dabbled into sexual online experiences (outside of gaming of course). Why would she expect that kind of thing not to bleed over into her favorite game? Still, the quick turn of conversation was a bit jolting.

[Fainn]: Dude. Come on. So immature.

[Geir]: Hey man, there's no judgement here. Just keep it out of the cc.

[Fainn]: For real, stop. You'll make Ari uncomfortable.

[Ariae]: Thanks Fainn.

[Mika]: Fainn. PM me.

[Geir]: OMFG. Just say it.

Mika left the clan chat.

[Fainn]: ... -.-

Even though they had known each other for a few months, none of the clan members had shared any personal information with each other. Everything talked about had to do with the game except when it came to Mika.

Fainn, Geir, and Kairi had come upon Mika while she was still in the beginning stages of the game. She was trying to catch low-level fish as part of a tutorial quest but couldn't figure out how. After a few minutes of Fainn coaching her while Geir poked fun and Kairi sat back and watched, the newbie finally got it. After Fainn had helped her, it was like they had fed a stray dog. Mika followed them everywhere, even though she was a much lower level than everyone else in Kingdom Hearts. And she instantly started crushing on Fainn, which annoyed them all, except maybe Fainn himself, Kairi figured. He didn't act like it affected him, but Fainn could be privately messaging her now with sexy, sweet nothings for all Kairi knew. Her cheeks burned again, but she couldn't tell if it was with embarrassment or envy...

Just then, Kairi's stomach growled loudly. She sighed and looked at her character. More nightly adventures with the KH clan would have to wait until she had some dinner, something she usually took care of before hopping online. Today had just gotten away from her, and there was no time to eat before joining the guys for the three-headed dragon battle. As if on cue, her older, fluffy calico cat jumped in her lap and meowed loudly at her, pawing at the keyboard. "Want some dinner, Yuna?" Yuna mewed and rubbed herself against Kairi's stomach as if to answer her affirmatively. Her stomach growled again in agreement.

[Ariae]: BRB guys. Need to make some dinner.

[Fainn]: TYT.

[Geir]: Hurry up.

Kairi giggled at how oppositely they had responded to her message and logged out so she could focus on dinner for Yuna and herself. Yuna jumped from her lap after hearing the familiar logging out sound coming from Kiari's headset and began meowing over and over again as she sauntered towards the kitchen, glancing back to make sure her mom was following her. Kairi obediently followed her older cat and quickly made them both some dinner.

After opening a can of soft food for Yuna and downing a quick meal of last night's leftovers, Kairi jumped right back onto Heart of Worlds for another couple of hours of adventuring. The trio did a quest together for another hour before heading back to their clan headquarters. Kairi sat her character down at the clan table and blushed slightly when she saw Fainn sit beside her. Okay, so she was totally crushing on a fictional character on a game that someone in real life played. Great... At least she didn't make it as obvious as Mika, right?

This crush had been an ongoing thing for Kairi since she joined the KH clan. Fainn was just so nice and friendly. He seemed like he'd be an incredible person outside of Heart of Worlds. He was quick to help anyone in need, loved to sprint straight into fun battles, but was also a fantastic leader to her and her clan mates. It was hard not to like him. But, Kairi reminded herself, she knew nothing about him in real life, just who he played in Heart of Worlds. He could be totally different outside of the game.

Her attention was called back to the game when she heard the 'ping' of the clan chat as Fainn and Geir messaged back and forth. They planned for another outing tomorrow to take on a quest that was a prerequisite to another, much harder, quest. After the planning was done and everyone's tasks were assigned, the small clan began casual chit-chat, staying away from real life subjects as usual.

Kairi glanced at her computer's clock and quickly realized how late it had gotten. It was already 12 AM and she still had work in the morning. She sighed and began saying her goodnight's to her two clan mates and was about to click log out when she received a private message from Fainn. Her heart immediately leaped into her throat.

[Fainn to You]: Ari, I need to ask you a personal question. You don't have to answer if you feel uncomfortable.

[You to Fain]: Go for it.

[Fainn to You]: Ah, nevermind. I gotta go.

Fainn has logged off.

Kairi sat back in her chair and twirled her auburn locks around her finger curiously. What was that about? She didn't really have time to wonder too much though. Morning was approaching and she needed a few hours of sleep before she had to go back to the dreary office. She put her computer to sleep and climbed into bed. Yuna had already made herself comfortable at the foot of the bed on her tattered yellow blanket from the shelter Kairi had adopted her from four years ago. Kairi gave her kitty some head rubs before turning out the bedside lamp and pulling the covers up over herself. Maybe Fainn would explain himself tomorrow she hoped as she quickly drifted off to sleep.

•| ⊱♡⊰ |•

Somewhere else...

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Sora hit his head over and over on his desk while Heart of Worlds' login screen glowed in front of him. Why couldn't he just ask Ariae her real name? He really was too old to be feeling nervous over asking such a mundane question. And now she probably thought he was a weirdo with how quickly he logged out after backing out on his "personal question."

His bedroom door creaked open, and there stood his brother, Roxas, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Sora, it's 6 AM. What the hell are you doing?" Roxas' voice was still thick with sleep as he looked at him confused. Sora's head was still on the desk, his brown hair obscuring most of his face, and he wasn't even looking at him.

After a moment, Sora sighed and lifted his head then grinned at him sheepishly. "Just, uh, playing some Heart of Worlds with Riku." Riku was Sora's best friend as well as their shared roommate. The three boys had moved in together once Roxas started college a couple of years ago. Now Sora and Riku ran a small indie game company out of their home while Roxas was getting a business degree to hopefully become a partner in the future. Not bad for a couple of 25-year-olds and a soon-to-be 20-year-old.

Roxas shook his blonde head at him and rolled his eyes with a slight annoyance. "I have classes at 10 so can you keep it down?" Without waiting for Sora to answer, Roxas closed his brother's bedroom door. Sora's face fell once he heard the door click closed. Was he really crushing on someone online? Who he only really knew from his favorite online game? Then he heard a buzzing noise from his nightstand. It was his cellphone with a text from Riku. Despite their rooms being next door to each other, Riku liked texting him as if they still lived apart. Sora rolled his eyes knowing damn well Riku was still awake since they had literally all three just logged out from Heart of Worlds.

 Sora rolled his eyes knowing damn well Riku was still awake since they had literally all three just logged out from Heart of Worlds

Sora glared at the screen then put his phone back on the nightstand. Fucking Riku... He'd ask her when he was ready. But Riku kind of did have a point. Not the whole "marrying him off thing," but that he shouldn't really wait around. He'd had a crush on Ariae ever since she joined the Kingdom Hearts clan. She was kind and fun. She liked gaming as much as him it seemed, and he just knew she was more amazing in real life. He just needed to muster up the courage to ask her her name and then take this friendship (and potential romance) IRL.

The only thing he knew for certain was that she was across the world... In a different time zone. There was a six hour difference between him and her. He was 100% down for a long distance relationship if that was what it took. He hadn't ever been this caught up with a woman before and letting Ari slip through his fingers wasn't an option he could entertain. But would she feel the same? He felt like she might have the tiniest crush on him but maybe she was just being nice?

Sora tried to shake the intrusive bad thoughts from his mind. He wanted to tell her how he felt, but sometimes that was easier said than done... He really needed to talk to someone about this. Maybe he could talk with Riku about it tomorrow? After all, there was a lot that could go wrong, but oh, what if it went right? It was hard to be positive with so many unknowns even if he did really like her. And Sora was usually a "glass half full" kinda guy. Sora sighed, resolving to voice his concerns to Riku tomorrow, and flipped off the lamp on his nightstand. He practically flopped into bed, his eyes heavy with sleep already. These thoughts would have to wait. Finally, Sora drifted off.

『♡』•『♡』•『♡』•『♡』