Chapter 1: Unpleasant and Unexpected

The goblin swings its sword at BunnyAce, who brings his dagger to meet the blade. He spins his menu clockwise, sliding the Cure icon out of the seventh slot and a shield icon into the first, and taps it. His dagger blurs away leaving a shield in its place, reducing the blocked swords damage to a measly 4 points and causing the goblin to stagger, leaving it open for Tall&Zxy's sword to deal the finishing blow.

BunnyAce taps his menu twice in quick succession, replacing his shield with a dagger as he flash steps behind another goblin in a line of blurred light. He stabs the blindside of the goblin earning a backstab and defeating it in a single hit. He turns to watch Tall&Zxy with a grin.

Tall&Zxy's sword blurs to a knife as he parries the blade of a third goblin, reducing the already low damage to almost nothing. He follows up with a quick swing, manipulating the spiral menu to exchange the knife in his off hand back to the sword mid swing, retaining the knife's speed but dealing the sword's damage. He ignores the negligible damage from the goblin's attempt at a counter and swings again causing the last goblin to disappear.

"Yes!" Tall&Zxy yells as the victory window appears.

BunnyAce smiles and shakes his head at his friend's exaggerated exuberance over their meager winnings.

"No drops that time." He sighs, "And the soul energy isn't great anymore either."

"Not like there's much time left for us to use it for anything anyway." Tall&Zxy responds, still smiling.

BunnyAce nods, "Yeah." He scratches his head, his avatar's hair too short to twirl, "It's too bad there wasn't enough time for a temple run."

Tall&Zxy's reaches up to put a hand on his friend's shoulder, as despite his screen name, BunnyAce's avatar is taller and broader than his, "It just wasn't in the cards."

BunnyAce looks up at the blue sky, his eyes darting from cloud to cloud. He realizes the clouds are surprisingly non uniform and wonders if there are just that many renders, or if they are formed from an algorithm of some kind. Rather than ruminating further on that, he shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath, taking in the smells around him. The scent is amazing. He can smell the nearby trees, the grass, even the vapor in the air.

"I still don't get why you do that." Tall&Zxy says. BunnyAce can tell from his tone that this time the question isn't rhetorical.

"The event is over in fifteen minutes. This may be the last time I get to experience this." He says as he lowers himself to his knees and runs his palm over the grass.

Tall&Zxy kneels beside him, "What are you talking about? There's going to be a home version soon enough, then you'll be able to experience this whenever you want."

BunnyAce shakes his head, "I don't think the home version is going to be like this." He turns to face Tall&Zxy, "They aren't going to ship thousand pound tubes to people's homes. And do you really think most people are going to want a product that requires you to be naked? Even if it's this immersive?"

Tall&Zxy thinks for a moment, "But the point of this event was to show it off right?"

BunnyAce nods, "I'm sure it'll still be miraculous. But I doubt it'll be like this. Can't you smell the wood?" He takes Tall&Zxy's hand and runs it across the grass causing him to shudder, "That feeling? Can you tell the grass is simulated?"

Tall&Zxy quirks his head to the side with a smile, "No. It really is amazing,"

BunnyAce grins at him, "And we're getting to feel it. But in thirteen minutes, we won't be able to feel it anymore."

Tall&Zxy turns to BunnyAce again and shakes his head in amusement, "You enjoy the weirdest things."

BunnyAce chuckles, "Says you. We must have fought over a hundred goblins today, and you were excited to defeat every single one!"

Tall&Zxy laughs, "I guess we're both weird then." BunnyAce laughs with him.

Tall&Zxy then looks around, "The post combat lull is about to end."

BunnyAce turns to him and nods, "Yeah, shall we head to the shrine? Or do you want to fight more goblins?"

"Shrine." Tall&Zxy responds before turning towards the nearby forest.

BunnyAce looks over the field at the mountains in the distance. Part of him wants to go look at the temple, but he doesn't know that there's enough time to even reach it, so he turns to follow Tall&Zxy.

"What were you looking at?" Tall&Zxy asks as BunnyAce approaches him.

"Just wondering what the Temple is like." BunnyAce responds.

Tall&Zxy nods, "The trees are so real." He walks over and touches one, "Makes you wonder what they did for the Temple." He's turning to BunnyAce when the red exclamation point indicating an important system message appears on his HUD.

"An urgent system message now?" BunnyAce asks no one in particular as he taps the indicator, opening the message.

Tall&Zxy shrugs, "There's only ten minutes left. Maybe they are just trying to make sure everyone's prepared to log out?"

BunnyAce is reading the message, "It says to go to a safe zone before reading the rest of the message." He then glances at the scroll bar. "It's way too long to just be a ten minute warning."

Tall&Zxy looks at him, "It says to go to a safe zone. Maybe we should go to the shrine?" BunnyAce nods in response and they increase their pace, arriving at the shrine under a minute later.

"That's weird. Where is everybody?" Tall&Zxy asks when they find the shrine deserted.

"The NPCs are supposed to be interactive right?" BunnyAce responds, "Maybe the shopkeeper knows."

"What can I do for you?" The elven shopkeeper asks.

BunnyAce selects Talk off the menu that pops up, "Do you know what happened to everybody?"

The shopkeeper nods, "The other players all left a moment ago."

BunnyAce is surprised at how realistic this is, "Do you know why?"

The shopkeeper shakes his head, "Not at all."

When BunnyAce hits the back button the shopkeeper returns to his previous stance, "What can I do for you?" He repeats. BunnyAce selects Nothing off the pop up menu this time and the shopkeeper returns to what he was doing.

"So everyone left?" Tall&Zxy asks.

"That's what he said." BunnyAce shrugs, "Maybe they went to town because of the message?"

Tall&Zxy nods, "Maybe we should too?"

BunnyAce nods back, "Do you think we should go to the great temple or town square?"

Tall&Zxy thinks for a moment, "Town square will probably have more people right?"

BunnyAce ponders that and then nods, "Yeah. So let's go."

When the familiar fade in of teleportation leaves them in town square, they find they were right: There are a number of people there, but they all seem distracted, probably reading the message they were there to read. BunnyAce wastes no time opening it and scrolling past the warning about going to a safe zone. Tall&Zxy does the same thing.

"The following changes will be implemented..." BunnyAce starts. "But that makes no sense."

Tall&Zxy turns to him, "Yeah, the event ends in five minutes."

"According to this message, the changes are scheduled to occur when the event ends." BunnyAce raises an eyebrow, "But, like you said, that makes no sense!"

BunnyAce starts reading the list, "Soul energy gains, shop costs and item drop rates will be adjusted back to the standard amounts. Soul energy costs for setting orbs into the fate wheel will also be re-enabled. Locations that were off limits will be enabled over time, as well as new locations that have never been in the game before." He turns to Tall&Zxy, "So far it seems to be undoing all the things that were enhanced or limited to facilitate the event."

Tall&Zxy has an incredulous expression on his face, "Okay, some of these are getting weirder. Your avatars will be adjusted to facilitate a more realistic experience. All player re-spawn points will be removed, those who are defeated will be removed from the server. All players PK settings will be set to on. What is this?"

BunnyAce looks down, "Yeah. It's even asking us to 'Please be careful, as all methods of revival have been removed from the game."

Tall&Zxy squints, "The game clock will rotate every twenty four hours, with an unalterable twelve hour day and night cycle. Though visibility and enemy spawn rates will change, skill effects will not be altered during the night time hours."

BunnyAce shakes his head, "What's the point of all this? There's only a minute before we all log out, isn't there?"

Tall&Zxy shrugs, "I thought so."

A moment later BunnyAce's vision blurs. But it's not just his vision, he hears a light static, feels a strange tingling sensation. He even tastes and smells an odd cacophony of sensations he can't quite put to words. His substance seems to be gone, like his body doesn't exist, and then his senses collapse into complete disorientation.

The tingling returns to his skin first, then come the strange tastes and scents. He hears the static and then his vision returns, blurriness replacing his earlier disorientation. The tingling fades away, replaced with the feeling of clothing as the scent and taste disappear. He starts to hear various sounds around the square, but it's the blurriness coming into focus that causes him to step back.

A moment ago, Tall&Zxy was half a head shorter than him. Now he finds himself staring at his chest. When he looks up he sees the face of Luke, Tall&Zxy's player, with a surprised expression he's sure mirrors his own.

"BunnyAce. You look like..." Tall&Zxy starts.

"Me right? Because you don't look like Tall&Zxy anymore. You look like..." BunnyAce doesn't want to tell everyone in the square Luke's name if he doesn't have to.

"I look like Luke." Luke finishes.

"Then I look like Asa?" Asa uses his real name in game for the first time ever.

"Yes. You do."

Upon closer inspection, Asa realizes that Luke doesn't look exactly right. It's not a picture perfect rendering of his best friend, but rather what it might look like if someone rendered an artist's depiction of him. His hair is still dark and short, but his features are slightly more angular, particularly his blue eyes, and his skin is blemish free, missing the admittedly small number of various scars he'd built up over the years.

Asa finds himself wanting to look into a mirror to see what he actually looks like. He doesn't bother mentioning any of this to Luke though. Whether he notices or not, Luke's never been the sort to care about irrelevant detail.

Luke looks out over Asa's head at the rest of the people in the square, and it's obvious who's a player and who's not. The NPCs have retained their fantastic designs. Even the humans have a stylized edginess to them that the players all lack. Every one of the players, however, had been transformed into a relatively normal looking human and their clothing reset to the default for their equipment. "BunnyAce, you should look at this."

Asa turns and despite the obviousness of what happened, his eye's still widen in momentary shock. After taking a moment to calm down, he speaks, "This must be the changes to our avatars to facilitate a realistic experience."

Luke sighs and frowns, "That probably means the rest of it was true too. Does that mean that death is… permanent?" He shudders at the thought.

"The thought is harrowing isn't it?" A mature female voice cuts in. When Asa and Luke turn, they find a woman about Luke's height and in her mid to late thirties or perhaps early forties, though she's clearly spry for either age. Her hair is purple and tied in a bun, making it's natural length and color hard to determine, though her bangs hang down to her shoulders on either side of her central part.

"Your hair is dyed right?" Asa asks, causing Luke rolls to his eyes. That is the sort of question his friend would ask first.

"It is. Fortunately I reapplied the dye this morning. I'd hate to be stuck in here forever with my roots showing." She says, though her tone and smile show a gleam of amusement.

This irritates Luke, "You're not seriously worried about your fake hair color?"

Her smile flattens, "No, but I think it's prudent to retain some levity all situations. Especially situations we can only speculate the truth of." She looks at the rest of the group, "So, BunnyAce and Tall&Zxy right?"

Asa nods, "I'm BunnyAce."

Luke sighs, "Tall&Zxy seems so childish now. Just call me Luke."

"Ardine," she introduces herself. "As for how I know you, we've done server raids together on occasion, though I don't think we ever had any more meaningful interactions. You'd know me as Bonehead Throkdar."

Asa and Luke's eye's widen, "You're B.T.?" Asa asks.

Ardine chuckles, "Bonehead Throkdar hates that nickname."

"Oh, sorry." Asa says sheepishly.

Ardine laughs in response, "You don't have to be sorry. Bonehead Throkdar is a character I play when I want to throw out the intellectualism that surrounds me and crush goblins with my mighty axe while yelling nonsensically. He hates the nick name. I find it amusing." Her expression flattens again, "But as I am no longer an eight foot tall orcish barbarian, and may be in some kind of death game, it seemed prudent to drop the facade."

Asa looks up at her, "You don't think they'd kill us in real life if we die here do you?"

Ardine shakes her head, "I think that's highly unlikely. That said, I don't think it's so implausible that I'd risk it." She turns away from them, "But I don't think we should discuss this now."

"What do you mean?" Luke asks.

Ardine turns to him, "I don't know what's going on, but it's obviously gone past the scope of the event. Since we can only speculate on our situation, I think that's exactly what we should do. I'd like to get all the players together, or at least the top players, so we can discuss it. It's merely a coincidence that we happened to be next to each other when we transformed."

Luke nods at her, "So what do we do? Everyone looks different now."

"Like their real world selves if we are any indication." Ardine responds.

"So, how are we going to find them?" Asa asks.

Ardine starts moving her hands in the air, clearly using her personal menu, "Well, did either of you get anyone on your friend lists?"

Asa shakes his head, "It was only a six hour event and we didn't get to keep the accounts, so there didn't seem to be any need. Now I wish we'd been more social."

"Nonsense, no one had any idea this was going to happen. I didn't get many people either. Only people who I ran into who I felt I might want to party with. I did get GoldenrodBoy though, so I can at least contact him." She swipes her menu away, "I just messaged him. Assuming you guys are going to help me, we'll just have to find everyone else ourselves."

Luke nods, "Where should we meet?"

Ardine thinks for a moment, "We'd need a place large enough for a lot of people, and it should be in town, since it's the only safe zone everyone has easy access too."

"What about right here?" Asa asks.

Ardine shakes her head, "I believe it should be indoors, or at least further away from the town entrance. I know it's irrational, but I think people would feel safer."

"I guess we should try and find a place while we search." Luke concludes.

"That seems prudent." Ardine looks at Asa, "Are you okay?"

Asa looks down and gathers his thoughts before looking up at her, "Yes. And I think you're right. This is the best course of action right now."

Ardine sends each of them friend requests, which they both accept. "I think we should friend request everyone we can, not just the top players. While it seems unlikely they will keep us in here for any length of time, we have every reason to prepare for the worst, even if it's an unlikely scenario."

Asa nods in response, "I hope we're worrying for nothing."

"I hope so too." Ardine's smile looks fake. Asa can tell that, despite all the reasons it's implausible, she expects them to be there for a long time.

"Um… wait Ardine right?" Asa says as Ardine starts to walk off.

Ardine turns to face him and nods, "Yes."

Asa walks up to her, "I'm Asa."

Ardine smiles at him and offers her hand, "Well, I wish we'd met under better circumstances, but it's still nice to meet you regardless."

Asa shakes her hand and smiles back, "Likewise." Ardine then leaves.

Luke looks around the square, which is considerably emptier than it was a moment ago, "No one else took note of our conversation."

"I guess we should just start asking people then?" Asa asks.

Luke nods, "That seems like a good plan."

Getting people to go to a meeting isn't hard. Though many of them assume this is some kind of mistake and they will be let out soon, almost everyone agrees that meeting to discuss the situation couldn't hurt. Since Luke is the more social of the pair, he handles the people while Asa spends his time getting the lay of the land.

For the most part, the town is the same. The main entrance opens to town square, where merchants and the entrance to the temple is. Opposite that is a road which goes past the guild hall on one side and the tavern on the other.

The end of the road is where the first obvious new edition to the city is. Though the lodge existed before, during the event it was a one story building containing a cafe and a quest board and little else. Now it has a second story, and when the pair enters it, the entire first floor layout's been changed. Rather than being at the entrance, the cafe is off to the right and a desk with an NPC at it has taken it's place. The quest board is in the cafe, but next to it is a door labeled, "Adventurer's Society."

They were too busy looking for people to really search the place, but the changes are too palpable not to be noticed.

Past the Lodge to the west is a valley formed by two cliffsides containing the residential district. Rather than players, the residential zone is full of houses where the various NPCs in town live, and aside of viewing the scenery and a few quests, players have little reason to go there. Nothing of note seems to have been added there either, though they did find a few players wandering about.

On the east side of the lodge lies the second new edition to the town. What was previously just a steep, impassable cliff side, has been opened up to form a beautiful park area. Beyond that is a small shed that is apparently for growing things, but like at the Lodge, they don't have the time to do much more than look.

"Don't you think this would be a good place to hold the meeting?" Asa asks Luke as they walk back through the park.

Luke thinks for a moment, "It is calming atmosphere isn't it? And it's definitely large enough."

"I'll message Ardine." Asa says, and then sends the message.

[I was thinking the same thing. I'll be there with Collin, that's GoldenrodBoy's real name, in a few minutes.] Ardine responds.

Asa sits down on a bench and forwards the message to Luke. Luke messages everyone on his list about the meeting location and then sits down next to him, but he can tell Asa is too lost in thought to want to talk, and he's not in the mood to chat either, so they wait for people to show up in silence.

Asa isn't sure how long it takes for Ardine to show up, but the message got out since people are filling into the park. Slowly at first, but it's not long before a large number of people are milling about.

When Ardine shows up, she's talking to two men: the first is half a head taller than her and has short spiked fiery red hair while the second is half a head shorter with whose hair is an ear length scraggly black mop. When they get close, Asa sees that the redhead has a smattering of freckles across his nose, which seems odd to him considering Luke's missing his scars and the man still has the slightly fake drawn quality he's slowly becoming accustomed to. None of them look especially pleased but the dark haired man has crossed arms, is looking down at his feet and, when they get close enough that his expression is visible, is wearing a clear frown.

"There they are!" Ardine says when she noticed Asa and Luke on the bench. The two men with her look up.

"You said that's BunnyAce and Tall&Zxy?" The redhead asks her. The dark haired man look up but keeps his silent brooding expression.

"I told you their names are Asa and Luke." Ardine says, though her tone is once again more teasing than irritated.

The redhead nods, "I'd rather not use them without asking them first." He walks up to Luke and offers him a hand shake, "I'm Collin, though you'd know me as GoldenrodBoy."

Luke stands up and takes his hand, "I'm Luke. This is Asa."

Collin snickers and looks down at Asa, "BunnyAce eh? It's nice to meet you. I always appreciate a clever SN."

Asa looks down embarrassed, "It's not that clever."

"It's clever enough." Collin says, then he turns to Luke, "Is he always like this?"

"Only with people he doesn't know." Luke responds flatly.

Collin's smile flattens and he sighs, "Look, I'm sorry if I was ever an ass to you. I used the game to take out my frustrations and darker impulses."

Luke shrugs, "Never did anything to me."

Asa looks up at him, "But you're not gonna do that now right?"

Collin shakes his head, "No. And maybe I'll never do it again, I dunno." He turns to the black haired man. "This is Talyris."

Luke squints in suspicion, "The PKer?"

That causes Talyris to look down at his feet. Collin frowns, "Former PKer now. His name is Jerome, and well…" He pauses for a moment, "He's gonna talk about it at the meeting."

"Talk about what?" Asa asks.

Jerome looks at them and sighs, "It's gonna be hard enough to say once. Can you guys wait?" Ardine walks over and pats him supportively on the shoulder.

"Okay..." Asa says hesitantly. Luke seems angry, but he doesn't say anything.

Collin steps in, "We also found Trjreska, but she said she'd go check all the safe zones out in the field, and if necessary, escort anyone to a safe zone with a teleporter so they can reach town safely. She approves of the meeting, she just thinks making sure everyone's safe in town is a higher priority. A few other powerful players volunteered to join her, or I'd be out there too."

Luke thinks for a moment, "It's a hard call, and I'm glad someone's doing it, but I think we need to be here."

Asa stands up, "Yeah. We need to figure out what's going on." He thinks for a moment, "Or at least discuss what we're gonna do."

Collin nods, "I think what we're gonna do is more pertinent, since there's really no way to know what's going on, though we have discussed a few likely possibilities."

Jerome stomps in frustration, "I'd like to get my hands on the people who did this!"

Ardine puts her hand on his shoulder again, "Please, don't let your anger get the best of you."

Jerome surprises Asa by turning to her sheepishly, "Yeah, you're right. Thank you."

A few minutes later, Ardine stands up and addresses the crowd, "Hello, my name is Ardine. I played an orcish barbarian named Bonehead Throkdar, but as that physique has been shed, I've decided to shed that persona." She waits a moment for everyone to look at her.

"I thought it was prudent to hold this meeting because I believe we need to discuss our situation. I've already encountered disagreements on what's most important. Some think we should be considering the nature of our situation, others think we should concentrate on what we should be doing. I personally think coming to a consensus as a group is what's most important, though I agree both things should be addressed.

"I may have organized this meeting, but I have no intention of telling you what to do or what to think. I will state my opinions, but I want this to be an open forum for others opinions as well. Furthermore, I believe we should hear from everybody. Though it's likely that the top level players will likely be taking a great amount of responsibility for whatever we decide here, I think it would be foolish to ignore something simply because the person in question is less skilled at the game. I can't speak for anyone else, but I will not be intimidated, nor will I allow anyone to intimidate anyone else. Though this is a platform for communication and ideas, the ultimate purpose of this forum is practical. To assess our situation and what we should do as a result of it.

"Before I open the forum, there is someone who wishes to speak. You'd all know him as Talyris, but his name is Jerome and, well… I'll just let him speak." Ardine motions for Jerome to stand up.

Jerome shakes his head before addressing the crowd, "Death is permanent now. I know the system message basically said that, but I can confirm it." He looks at his feet and takes a deep breath before continuing, "I didn't look at the message when we first got it. I assumed it was a ten minute warning and wanted to make the most of the last ten minutes of the event. Right near the end I found a player who clearly wasn't very skilled. I'd been avoiding PKing weaker players before, to not ruin their enjoyment of the event, but as there was less than a minute left anyway, I didn't think it would matter."

He shakes his head and takes another calming breath, "The time ended and we were transformed just as I made my killing blow. When I came to, I saw the damage my attack did, and I saw my target disappear. But he didn't disappear like a player normally does, leaving a soul light. He disappeared like an enemy would, leaving nothing."

He puts his face in his hands for a moment before looking up again, "I waited to see if he'd come back, but he didn't. After this I returned to a safe zone and read the message. It didn't take me long to realize that I might have murdered somebody." He sighs, "I just wanted to make sure everyone understood the gravity of the situation. And anyone who still wants to PK after hearing this? Well… I don't care what decision we come to. I will personally hunt down and kill anyone who PKs. We started with only a thousand people, and there are less than that now, and many of us are not skilled enough to protect themselves against the more skilled players. I will not give people a second chance to PK. And I hope that the other top players agree with me."

Luke stands up immediately, "I agree completely. Anyone who intentionally PKs will be hunted down and killed. I'm Luke, previously known as Tall&Zxy, and from this moment on, despite what the update said, PKing is off the table."

Ardine speaks next, "While I think it would be prudent to create some kind of justice system, I generally agree. Until we know otherwise, PKing should be treated as murder, and dealt with accordingly. That said, there is another thing that is worrying about this. I doubt that PKs are the only things that can kill us right now. Dying to monsters and NPCs is likely just as deadly. We need to consider this as we move forward."

A heavy set college aged man with long scraggly hair stands up, "It sounds to me like you guys want to run the place. What gives you the right to decide what we can and can't do?"

Jerome looks at him, "Does that mean you want to PK people?"

The man shakes his head, "We don't know that people who die here are dead. They're probably just taken out of their tubes and sent home!"

Ardine steps in before Jerome can respond, "I agree, they probably are. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that they aren't. Let's say that whoever kidnapped us is quite insane and is killing people who die here in the real world. Even is that is extremely unlikely, shouldn't we act like it's true as long as there's any chance that it is?"

The man rolls his eyes, "So what? PK once and get executed? How is that fair!"

Ardine turns to him, "I'm not sure fairness has anything to do with it. I would like to point out that, unless something has massively changed, we have no way of incarcerating an offender. Short of assigning another player to follow them around forever, there may be nothing we can do to protect ourselves or the more vulnerable members of our community from PKing except removing the offenders."

Luke steps forward, "What I want to know is why anyone would argue for the right to PK!"

The man shakes his head, "I'm just saying, you guys have a lot of power. You guys organized this meeting. What's to stop you from enforcing whatever else you want on the rest of us?"

Asa stands up. He agrees with Jerome and Luke about PKers. Not because he thinks it's fair, but because he can't see another solution to the issue, but he also doesn't want this to become a tyrannical meritocracy. "You're right. We all have to check each other." He turns to Jerome and Luke, "Please don't take things into your own hands. I can't see another solution to PKing, so I agree with your proposal, but we have to come to a consensus or we could end up in a digital civil war. That would help no one." He turns to the man, "But at the same time, you should know that we do need some kind of justice system, and we can't lock people up."

This time a girl stands up, "You are treating this so seriously. This is still a game."

Ardine shakes hare head, "Do we know that? It is a fact that we have been left in here longer than we agreed. It is a fact that the rules have been changed on us and our avatars have been forcibly changed into our real life selves. We cannot deny this. There are lots of questions we all have about our situation, but I personally think this stopped being a game the moment we were left in here."

The girl shakes her head, "But! They can't keep us in here forever!"

This time Collin stands up, "I wish I could say this was all going to be okay, but listening to what people are saying, I think we all need to take a step back and stop clinging to delusions or false hopes. We have been kidnapped, incarcerated against our will. We have no idea if we will ever be let out of here, to say nothing of when. I notice all the people who stood up are adults, young perhaps, but definitely adults. Frankly, you need to start acting your age.

"The minimum age to take part in this event was thirteen, that means there are young people here, young people who are probably just as worried as you are. We need to stay strong for their sake." He turns to face the girl, "Whether or not they can keep us in here forever is irrelevant. Until they let us out, we are here." He then turns to the man, "At the moment, there is nothing that is preventing any powerful person from abusing their power. That's part of the reason why we are having this meeting."

Everyone is silent, so Ardine continues, "Thank you Collin. There are two things we need to determine from this meeting. We must determine what our next course of action is, and we must determine what rules, if any, we will all agree to live by. Discussion of our situation may also occur, but the other two things are far more significant.

"After thinking about it, Collin and I believe we should get as far in the game's content as we can. There is a chance that whoever put us in here will let us out if we complete some arbitrary amount of content, but even if that is not the case, there are a number of practical reasons for us to engage with the game."

A man stands up, "But isn't that dangerous? If death in game is permanent, then shouldn't we all stay in safe zones until they decide to take us out of here?"

Collin stands up, "Unfortunately, we can't assume that will remain true forever. While it is true that the safe zones are constant at most times, there have been special limited time events which negated one or more safe zones, such as the zombie apocalypse event last Halloween. While there's no guarantee such an event will happen, if such a thing were to happen and we aren't prepared to it, it would be disastrous. I'm not suggesting we rush the game, in fact, I think we should tackle the challenges as safe and methodically as possible, but the sooner we gain access to later areas the sooner we'll be able to get more powerful stuff, and the safer we'll all be."

The first man who spoke speaks again, "You mean the safer it'll be for the people who get strong!"

Collin looks at him, "It's not that simple though. Even though we might not be playing it for fun, the fact remains that this is a game, and as a game, has specific rules we must abide by. One of those rules is that the Fate wheel and equipment systems limit what any single person can do. The entire game system is designed to force people to work together in groups, so an individual can only be so strong." Collin then grins, "But there is more than that. We actually gain a lot for working together. Rare drops are going to be a hot commodity, but most of us will end up getting drops we aren't set up to use. If we create a repository, or just make sure to get the stuff we get to people who can make use of it, we gain a lot. On the other hand, if people hoard things they can't use, it hurts everybody, including them." The man sits down, seemingly satiated.

A boy raises his hand, "So… I don't know if this is good. But what that guy with red hair just said gave me an idea..."

Ardine looks at him, "Go on."

"It sounds like Auctioning would work against us right? But if we always put up things with a buy now price of one soul energy… couldn't we use the auction system as a communal bank?" He says.

Collin's eyes widen, "That's an amazing idea! In fact, that's such a good idea that I think maybe we should treat it as the first suggestion and see what everyone else thinks!"

Ardine nods, "I agree. What's your name?"

"Brandon..." The boy says.

Ardine addresses the crowd, "So then! What does everyone think of Brandon's suggestion?"

"What if we want to sell our stuff?" A man asks.

Ardine looks at him, "To what end?"

"To make soul energy off our hard work." He says.

Collin steps in, "Let me take this one. There is going to be more than enough soul energy moving around that the amount you'd make out of the auction is likely to be irrelevant. I know I for one am going to grind a lot more soul energy than I can use. Since I know I can handle myself in later areas where soul energy is more abundant. That way I can give energy to those players who might not be powerful enough, or lack the skills, to get it themselves. I think many of the other top level players will be doing the same thing."

"Well, what if I don't want to give my hard earned soul energy or drops away?" He asks.

Collin shrugs, "We can't really force you to. But don't expect anyone to help you, or even party with you with that attitude." The man doesn't respond to that.

Ardine steps up, "So, back to Brandon's proposal." She thinks for a moment, "Perhaps we should hold a vote, and if the vote is too close, then we can continue the discussion. But if most people want to go with it, we should probably just move on. Does anyone have a problem with this?" No one says anything, so Ardine continues, "So those of you who are for using the auction system as a communal bank, raise your hands." Nearly everyone in the group's hand goes up. "Well then. I think we can safely say that we agree to that. So, does anyone else have any suggestions?"

The meeting continues like that for the rest of the afternoon. And by the time it's over, they've reached few conclusive decisions. One thing everyone did eventually agree on, though no one was happy about it, was that there really wasn't a solution for PKers aside of just eliminating them. They at least decided that accidental PKing would be handled on a case by case basis, but that repeat offenders would be treated as threats.

Collin reminded everybody that even though they were all PK flagged, they could still set their friendly fire options off, and he urged everybody to turn them off immediately, stressing that there's little reason for anyone to have them on at all.

Another thing that was agreed upon was to use the guild system to create formalized parties. That would make it easier for a party that lost someone, or that just ended up imbalanced, to find someone to help them. Ardine pointed out that it also just makes sense for people to work with the same people, so they can learn how each other works.

Luke, however, stressed that it wasn't necessarily a good idea to split the top players into different parties. Parties with vastly different mismatched skill levels would have to tackle content suitable for the least skilled member. If the top players work together they can tackle more difficult content faster and get better rewards, which then they can bring back to give to people who need them without putting those people in danger. Collin agreed with Luke, but mentioned that the top players should still be willing to teach the other players, and to party with them when they need help with easier content.

The last thing people agreed on is to spend however long it took to properly search the starting city, to see if there's any additional content that could help them, but also just to get the lay of the land before they put themselves in danger.

All and all, after it got going, the meeting got monotonous rather quickly and Asa is glad it's over. "So, what do you wanna do?" He asks Luke.

Luke gives him a look, "I know we agreed to search the town, and I think that's a good idea, but I also think we should get a head start. And we're in a great position to do that."

"You act like we're in a better position to do that than other top players." Asa says incredulously.

Luke's expression, however, is serious, "We are. Remember the skill roulette for the event? The one you were complaining about?"

Asa sighs, "Yeah, I remember." He thinks for a moment, "Wait, are you saying we still have those skills?" He opens his skill menu and looks.
Luke nods, "I still have mine at least. I even tested it, and as far as I can tell, it works the same as it did during the event, five seconds of invincibility followed by a ten minute cooldown."

"Yeah, the skill is here on my list. Survive being reduced to zero hit points and get healed for an amount of HP equal to your guts with a cooldown of twelve hours. For a six hour event, that skill's terrible, but now, it doesn't seem so bad." Asa muses.

"But think about it. We know each other's fighting styles inside and out. We both have unique skills that make us more survivable, and this way we won't have to watch out for anyone else. We can tackle content we know we can handle without having to worry about accidentally bringing someone else to something they can't handle." Luke is adamant, but Asa isn't sure.

"Hmm, I get what you're saying, but I think I want to check around and see who groups up together before I make any decisions like that. There might be need for our skills in different places." Asa says.

Luke sighs, "Oh… I can tell I'm not gonna win this one."

Asa shakes his head, "Luke, it's not a competition. I just don't want to rush into anything."

Luke nods, "I understand." He turns, "You know, I still think I'm going to get a head start. Go solo."

"I know I'm not gonna stop you, but be careful okay? And just because I'm not running out with you right now doesn't mean I'm not available if you need help."

"I know." Luke says, "But Asa? One of the reasons I'm doing this is so I can get to a point where I'm the one doing the helping." Then he walks off.

Asa sighs as he watches Luke leave, hoping he isn't seeing the last of his best friend. A young sounding voice calls his attention, "Um… Are you sure you shouldn't go with him?"

Asa turns to find Brandon standing behind him. From his voice and timidity, Asa had assumed he was one of the youngest people in the game. Now that he sees him, he's not sure that's true, and he decides to take a closer look.

Though half a head taller than Asa, Brandon's clearly not fully grown. He has that awkward lankyness that comes from one's height outstripping their musculature, but his physique is more developed than one would expect of a thirteen year old. He has olive skin and short brown hair except his bangs hang down just above his eyelashes. Asa guesses he couldn't be older than fifteen or sixteen as his features look young, almost like someone had grafted a twelve year old's head to a teenager's body, and he feels somehow larger than Brandon despite his shorter stature.

He looks up into Brandon's earnest hazel eyes before responding, "I'm not sure of anything right now. But that's why I can't just go with him. I don't want to make a mistake and get one or both of us killed."

"Aren't you worried he'll get himself killed?" Brandon asks.

"A little, but Luke isn't like me. He's always been decisive in a crisis." Asa responds.

"Then what are you worried about?" Brandon steps up alongside Asa as he asks.

Asa looks down, "I'm not sure, but part of me wonders if he'll be the same person the next time I see him."

Brandon sighs, "I have a feeling none of us will be." He turns to Asa again, "I heard what you were talking about and..." He hesitates, his timidity returning.

"Are you okay?" Asa asks.

Brandon looks down, "Look, I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I was just walking past and..."

Asa shakes his head, "Think nothing of it." He thinks for a moment, "Did you want something?"

Brandon looks into his eyes again, "You're BunnyAce, right? The spiral master?" Asa nods in response, waiting for Brandon to continue. "Well… I was hoping you'd party with me. See, I'm not the best, but I think I could be really good, but I'd need to tackle stuff that challenges me, and well, if I do that without a good safety net well..."

Asa cuts off his babbling, "I'd be happy to. I was hoping to find a group of people, and your goal is admirable. The only problem is, I'm primarily a damage spike DPSer. What you really need is someone who can take the heat off you and take a few hits. That's not me."

"What about your roulette skill?" Brandon asks.

Asa shakes his head, "It would let me survive a big attack once, but it's not sustainable."

Brandon sighs, "So… should I ask someone else?"

Asa smiles, "We should ask someone else. I didn't mean you should find someone instead of me, I meant that we should find at least one more person."

Brandon grins, "Really?"

Asa nods, "And I think I know who we can ask."

Brandon raises his eyebrow, "Who?"

Asa has already started walking off, "Ardine. She ran the meeting, oh, and she used to be Bonehead Throkdar."

Brandon's eyes widen, "You really think she'll help?"

Asa nods again, "I think she'll be happy to party with us."

Brandon seems bewildered, "Thank you."

"What's wrong?" Asa inquires.

"I'm just overwhelmed. I knew asking one of the best players on the server for help was a long shot. I never expected to team up with two." Brandon responds.

"Well, we haven't gotten Ardine's help yet, so don't jump the gun, but she is known to party with newbies, and I'm happy to help." Asa grins and Brandon, "And you are the first person to approach me, so really, this was all you." That earns Asa a big grin in response.

It doesn't take Brandon and Asa very long to find Ardine talking with Collin and a guy and a girl in the lodge. "Oh! Asa! I was hoping you'd show up here." She turns to Collin, "These are Collin's friends. They apparently party together commonly, and intend to continue to do so now."

Collin shrugs, "They aren't as good as me, but we've been friends for a long time."

The girl scoffs, "Drop the act Col. You aren't the type to brag. I just wish we could get back to having fun. This is the only time I get to be a jerk without repercussions!"

Asa frowns at her, "You know online bullying actually does have repercussions right?"

She looks down at him with an irritated expression, "Of course I do! I meant get back to PKing people not belittling them!"

Asa shakes his head, "You better not PK anybody in here."

The boy looks down at him, equally irritated, "We don't intend to, but we also didn't sign up for this! Give us a break!"

Collin steps forward, "Tracy, Lloyd cut it out! None of us asked for this, and he's right, you guys do need to lighten up. RPing a jerk in game is one thing, but I've had to apologize for your forum behavior more than once." Lloyd and Tracy grunt at that, but don't have a response.

Collin turns back to Asa, "I'm sorry. They're both cantankerous in real life, but you won't find two more loyal friends." He shoots them a grin, "Even if they'll complain about it the whole way." They both roll their eyes at that.

Asa nods, "It's okay. I'm just a little distraught. Luke went off on his own."

Collin nods, "I had a feeling he would. Jerome did as well."

"Do you think they'll party together?" Asa asks, though he knows the question is really rhetorical. Even if Jerome asks, he's certain Luke wouldn't accept.

Collin shakes his head, "I doubt it."

Brandon clears his throat and everyone turns to him, "So… Asa agreed to party with me, and since you guys are here. I was wondering if you guy's would party with us?"

Ardine smiles, "Sure! I was planning to formalize a guild anyway, and I could do worse than having GoldenrodBoy and BunnyAce as my guild mates."

Collin puts up his hands, "Sorry, but I'm gonna have to pass. It's nothing personal, but I want to improve their skills, and having two additional top level players like you two around would make that more difficult. But if you guys form a guild, I'd love to have them collaborate."

Brandon gulps nervously and looks up at Ardine, "So… I guess we'll be joining your guild?"

Asa shakes his head, "Seems to me like you invited us to join yours."

Ardine grins, "Sounds about right to me."

Brandon looks down, "Really? But I thought you said you were going to formalize a guild?"

Ardine pulls Brandon's face so he's looking up at her again, "So let's formalize one! I never said I had to be the leader of said guild, and you are the one who asked us. It's only fair you be the one to lead us."

"But both of you are older and more experienced and better at the game and..." Brandon stutters.

Ardine cuts him off, "So consider use your supporters and advisers. Leaders don't do everything themselves or make all their decisions alone."

Lloyd steps forward, "Look kid. You clearly were afraid to talk to them."

Brandon looks down, "Yeah. I know. I'm a coward."

Lloyd shakes his head, "That's not what I was sayin' at all! You were scared and you talked to them anyway!" He grins down at him, "That's not cowardice. That's courage!"

Collin grins, "The kind of courage a leader needs."

"So, you guys gonna form a guild? Or what?" Tracy asks.

"I'm in. As long as there's a place for Luke in our guild. If he ever decides to I mean." Asa sighs.

Brandon nods, "Of course."

Ardine grins, "Then it's settled! No time like the present to formalize our guilds right?"

Collin nods and turns to Lloyd and Tracy, "You guys wanna go set up our guild?"

"Sure." Lloyd says disinterestedly.

Tracy shrugs, "Why not?"

Collin turns to them, "Then let's go!"

The room with the guild has a single NPC and a desk, and the NPC doesn't even have a talk option. Asa supposes that makes sense, as the NPC has enough to say already with the guild explanations and tutorials, even though in truth there's not much to them. You just name your guild, add members, and maybe create and assign jobs. So starting a guild is a really fast affair. Or it would be, except neither group could decide on a name.

"This shouldn't be this hard." Collin says frustratedly, "We can even change the name whenever we want!"

Brandon turns to them, "The A team!" He decides, "That's what we're gonna be."

Asa shakes his head, "I mean, that's a pretty good pun. But what about you?"

Brandon blinks in confusion, "Pun? What do you mean?"

Asa blinks at him, "I mean the fact that Ardine and my names start with A."

"I hadn't thought of that." Brandon says, "That's even better! After all, you guys are much better than me."

Ardine frowns, "Can we not start by putting ourselves down?"

Brandon smiles, "That's not what I mean. BunnyAce and Bonehead rocked! Partying up with you is a dream come true."

Asa blinks at him, "It is?"

Brandon nods, "Yeah. I've always wanted to team up with you. And GoldenrodBoy too. All the greats." He looks down, "But I was eager and a kid. And I said some stupid stuff and..."

Ardine laughs, "As if we weren't kids at some point! You should have asked me. I'd have gladly teamed up with you."

Asa nods, "Yeah, you shouldn't let a few assholes ruin things for you. And if you realize you said something stupid, don't give up, learn."

Ardine puts a hand on Asa's shoulder, "I couldn't have said it any better." She then pulls Brandon into a side hug, "Besides, that's the past. Right now, we're the A team!"

Collin laughs, "Somehow, the C team doesn't sound as cool."

"No it doesn't, and since when are we naming our team after you?" Lloyd sounds incredulous.

Tracy rolls her eyes, "It was a joke. But at this point I'm fine with C team just to have this over with! As Collin said, we can always change it later."

Asa thinks for a moment, "The Indecisive Ones?"

Collin grins, "That's perfect!" He turns to Lloyd, "That's perfect right?"

Lloyd shakes his head, "Man. You know if we go with that we're never allowed to change it."

Tracy laughs, "Allowed to change it? I'd never want to! It's just so good!"

Collin types it into the console. "So, what do you want to do now?" He asks them.

"If I may. I wanted to see what the new addition to the lodge is about. It's actually what I wanted you for to begin with. It appears that there are rooms we can access, and I wanted to explore them. But I didn't feel like doing it alone." Ardine says.

"That sounds fine to me." Collin responds, "You guys?" Tracy nods and Lloyd shrugs.

"That has me curious too." Asa says.

Brandon grins, "Then our first joint adventure will be to search the lodge!"

The group bursts out laughing, "Yes!" Collin yells, "It's perfect!" And then they head out to the lobby.