The sun sang grace through the clouds and across the field of beautiful spring flowers.
I gazed up at the sky and smiled. Today, I would become the strongest in all of Vérité. I joined this world before any of the other lucky fifteen thousand participants. After all, I was the creator’s daughter.
The fellow player in the midnight cloak lifted his hood and glanced at me. “That’s really your way of leveling up? Slicing the air a hundred times?” He sniggered as he looked back down at his spell book, folded down the page, and closed it with a thump. His immaculate grin could cut through diamond.
I lowered my swords and threw him a glare. He had been quietly sitting against the tree, perusing through that book of his for the past half hour. Now he chose to speak? Give me a break.
I rolled my eyes and raised a brow. “Oh, how would you level up without taking damage?” I believed that battling dungeon monsters for leveling up wasted time, energy, and even money. Zircon didn’t just grow on trees, so I can’t just whip out a few stones like nobody’s business to keep purchasing food for energy gain. As though he had a better method.
“By entering a practice dual, of course.” He chuckled as he stood. “Why, a practice dual eliminates the possibility of taking any real damage or energy. In fact, only positive externalities are present, for now. Skill increases across the board.” The book shimmered and disappeared into his inventory. He held up his hand; a mage’s staff materialized and dropped into his grasp.
Oh dear Lord, I didn’t do magic. I didn’t fight magic. That was not the Talent I chose. I DIDN’T EVEN CHOOSE IT AS A SECONDARY SKILL! I’d never fought a mage before… This was not going to be a positive experience… I let out an exasperated sigh.
Wait... How did he know all of this?! The game had only been operational for a month. My presence here far outlasted anyone else’s. For a good week, it was just myself and a few in-game business owners, employees, guides, and other personas of the like. None of them were real, as indicated by the spherical yellow cursors floating above their heads. The cursors could only be seen when one activated the Player Stats vision ability. Regular human players had blue cursors.
Holding my tongue was something I needed to practice. “Well aren’t you rather knowledgeable? How have you already figured that out?” I tried to keep that slightest essence of jealousy out of my tone, but I was sure I failed rather dramatically. I ran my fingers through my curly brown hair and feigned a grin.
Closing my eyes, I activated the Player Stats vision ability. I could not believe this. He’s a blue player, Level 71… That was three levels ahead of me! How was that even possible? His magic level was already soaring in the nineties! However, his hand-to-hand combat was only in the sixties… That was oddly low in comparison to the levels of other categories.
I turned off Player Stats vision and sighed heavily. How was I supposed to dual against a guy like this, practice or not? I would lose in a heartbeat. Moreover, curiosity as to why his level was above mine still gnawed at me…. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I at least figured more time here meant a relatively higher skill than the other players.
The wind blew his wispy black hair away from his eyes and I could have sworn those blue gems sparkled when they caught the sunlight. As he began closing the space between us, he handsomely smirked. “I did my research. Impressed, much?” He pulled the green practice dual stone out of the pouch that hung from his belt. “Care to level up the classy way?” His hand stretched forward, displaying the stone before me. “Too much of a n00b to try, are you?” he winked.
OH NO, he did not. My blood began to boil and I slammed my hand over his. “Challenge accepted. Prepare to eat your words.” I knew I was strong enough to put up a good fight. Although, I honestly doubted my level would surpass his. It became quite clear that this defeated my plan of becoming the strongest in all of Vérité… But I couldn’t give up now!
The dual master’s voice rang from the heavens. “Practice Dual: Activated.”
We backed away from one another as our atmosphere became a pure white grid. A new battlefield appeared beneath our feet. Changing environments insured that nothing else would take damage during the dual. Even though this was practice, it felt so real to me.
False energy bars hung over our heads and I was still sure that I was done for if it reached zero…
When the energy bar reached zero, you lost five levels in all categories and reappeared where you last awoke. In my case, was this not a practice dual, I’d awake beneath the same tree under which this mystery player had been reading. That didn’t sound too bad.
I crossed my swords before me in shield mode, bracing myself for fear that he would make the prelusive strike. No sound, no movement. I stared at him, keeping my weapons raised.
“Why aren’t you using your magic?” I asked.
He used his staff as a cane and shifted his weight forward. “This is for you, not for me. I could finish you in one move without breaking a single sweat.” He raised his brows. “C’mon, you can do this, Eliana.” My name rolled off of his tongue as though he had said it a hundred times.
I let down my guard and lunged forward with my swords. I aimed to strike of course, but it would appear he disagreed as he began chanting a paralysis spell. Dangit… I froze in place. He moved swiftly and caught me as I fell. Why did we even try this if he simply intended to paralyze me?
He pulled an antidote stone out of his pouch. “The name’s Jonah. I’m one of the five guide mages in this village. If you want a real fight, you’re going to have to use some kind of magic defense… That, or find a mage as a partner instead of going it alone.” Jonah moved the sword from my right hand, and in it, he placed the antidote stone. I was glad he did not intend to leave me here until the effects wore off. I’d have been absolutely miserable.
As soon as I was able, I dropped the stone and grabbed my sword. I backed away and scoffed. “Now why would you even begin a practice dual if you were going to pull that paralysis trick? How pointless can you be?”
He shrugged. “As I said before, I’m a guide. I’m advising you here. This was simply a lesson. I’m surprised you accepted the dual even though I was clearly a mage. No matter how much you level up, you’ll never be able to beat players with an advantage over you. If I were you, I’d find a partner before midnight.” He looked upward. “Practice dual close. No winner selected.”
In the blink of an eye, the battlefield was gone, the atmosphere returned, and we were once more standing by the tree where I met Jonah.
I sheathed my blades and crossed my arms. “You teased me with skill raising in order to tell me I needed a partner?” That was exactly what it seemed like. All he had to do was say precisely that. I had to put my foot down. “Why go to all that trouble?! I seriously thought-” I halted my sentence in wonder.
Jonah held out his hands before me, cupped them ever so slightly, and blew in my direction. Ugh, now what was he doing..? This guy was a grade A weirdo. Mage or not.
I was overwhelmed by a breath of ice crystals and gelid air as it brushed across my skin. I squinted my eyes and fanned the flurry away from my face. “What the-? What is this?”
“Chill out!” He commanded, cleverly integrating his desire for me to be calm along with the effect of his magic. Why that punny, ostentatious son of a- “Did you not hear a word I said? You have until midnight to find a battle partner, preferably a mage. Your level of sixty-eight will be a lot harder to raise alone.” The surprising worry in his tone was genuine.