With Endel

Endel ached as his consciousness surfaced, the sharp breath he drew in being his first one as his senses returned. The chilled air flowed down into his lungs and made him aware of the agony spread across his entire being, with the right side of his chest especially painful. As his lungs expanded and pressed against the source of that pain, he coughed violently at the burst of pain that followed.

Memory came before sight, his recollection of the weight of the water crashing down upon him followed by the massive tail leaving his small body in such a condition. He lurched forward at it, as if seeking to double over from the pain. But his body was caught by something and stilled him.

"Open your eyes, Endel-kun," said a soft voice, beckoning him from the memory. He did so, coming across a pair of grateful amethyst-eyes that was joined by a somber looking smile. It was Aoili. "Thank goodness, you're awake at last."

Endel opened his mouth to say something, but the sound of crashing wood and something hard trampling the ground made her go silent and she covered his mouth while reaching for a pendant that he hadn't seen before and saying…something. His senses blinked for the moment, his consciousness still weak and fleeting. But one thing he noticed was that she looked terrified as a large blur passed by while his vision was unfocused.

Only when the noise became distant did so breath out a breath she had been holding and removed the had she hand on his mouth. "Sorry, but it can only dampen sight and not sound. Anything that makes you stand out too much will break the concealment. Whatever variable is being used to mark you as its target of aggression hasn't gone away, at least not until you can get out of its perimeter and it resets, so the boss circles around every five or so minutes searching for us."

That was the boss…Endel thought, recalling the terror he felt. He almost jumped up, but agony over took his body and he trembled with a cry as the young woman held him still.

"Don't move!" she ordered, holding him tight against her body. "You took a lot of damage and it's taking time to heal. Moving now will only make things worse, Endel-kun."

"I-it'll find us…" he muttered weakly. He was scared.

"Extending the concealment amulet's effects will hide us both as long as you stay close," she explained in a controlled and low tone, despite the fact that as close as he was to her he could hear her heart beating rampantly. "But I can't move very fast like this while maintaining my concentration to cover the two of us and I need to finish healing you."

Listening carefully they could still hear the sound of the ground and fauna being trampled upon by the [Ruin Axolotl] circling the island looking for them. The noise made him want to instinctively reach for his sword, but then he recalled it had shattered while he was killing the adds.

…For starters you always rush headlong into things without thinking about the consequences… That was what his brother told him earlier that day. Hindsight was something that he rarely had due to his age, but looking back now it seemed to be clear there was truth to be had there.

The young boy's entire body trembled as he clenched his eyes shut in an effort to stem the tears. He felt scared, in hostile territory without a weapon. He felt guilty, having dragged this woman who allowed him to come out this far and kept him safe into this mess. Taking a deep breath that made him shudder, he told her, "I'm sorry."

She gave him gentle look as she applied the healing pendant to his body and relief slowly flooded him, trickling in. "For what?"

"For everything," he whined, his voice cracking. "I should have listened to him…to my brother. He told me I…I never thought about the consequences…that this wasn't just a game. If I had just listened to him…and now I can't even…tell him I'm sorry in person…this is my fault."

Letting out a soft breath, Aoili's expression softened as she lightly rubbed his head to comfort him. For the briefest of moments she recalled her own friend who had chided her for playing along in the game, before she came to a decision. "I have two quartz left that I can use as grenades once I finish healing you…I'm going to use them to clear out the bridge while you use the amulet to hide yourself as you cross it. You should be able to make it out of the area and send him a PM for help."

He shook his head, realizing the implications. "If I do that you won't have any way to get back yourself. If its [Hate] resets…it'll target you next without any way to defend yourself. It's only after me, so if I…"

"I'm not leaving you behind," she stated. "I brought you along so something like this didn't happen, and I failed. There isn't any other way, not before the boss catches us when the amulet breaks eventually, and we can't lure anyone else here with the boss and adds being capable of damaging weapons on contact."

"My brother can do it," Endel stated as he made the motions for menu to open and to type in a message. He flinched though, the pain briefly flaring as it hurt to move.

She held him still. "Don't move yet."

"He's past level ten," Endel stated. "He uses crossbows and he can bring stuff to help us, like weapons. At least to help us get away."

Aoili grimaced at the thought. True, if they could get weapons and maybe some more quartz, they could stand a chance or at least get away. As a [Flag Mob] on the first floor, it wasn't impossible for a party of four or three if strong enough to take it. Long-Range weapons and magecraft would be their best bets.

But she'd hate to place someone else in trouble for her sake. But then again it wasn't just her here, now was it? She let out a tense breath and agreed. "When the boss passes by again we'll send the messages. I'll hopefully be able to reach a contact of mine and be able give him a spare weapon for me or at least some extra gems."

If she answers the PM, a less than optimistic voice whispered in the back of her mind.

-o0o-

1st Floor – Central Plaza of Starting City

Yumina stood with her back rigid as she waited from the arrival of the person that Aoili said to give the gems she had left over to upon his arrival and cheap rapier. When they started out she herself had one, but switched to the spear quickly on the first day to put distance between her and the monsters. She hadn't sold any of them, so she still had them in her inventory.

As the cold of the night seemed to nip at her exposed legs, her hand that held the spear she had trembled in knowing that Aoili was in trouble. She knew something like that would happen and it did. And there was nothing she could do about it but give some equipment to player she knew nothing about and trust that he would get her back safely.

Her gaze fell upon a young man matching the description Aoili mention in the PM, just arriving at the near empty plaza and coming towards her.

"Are you [Yumina]?" he asked. When she nodded he promptly opened the trade window between them to get the equipment without banter or any dialogue. Not even any assurance that he was going to bring her back. It didn't sit well with her, like she couldn't get a feel for who he was without some context beyond his hair being abnormally colored.

How could she trust someone like this to bring her beloved friend back? She finished the trade and said, "I'm coming with you."

He gave her an inquisitive look, taking in her equipment and noting it was that of starter gear. While some players liked to have certain clothing for the sake of appearance rather than practicality, she didn't carry herself like someone good with a spear after being in the game for months. "What Level are you and are you good with any particular Magecraft?"

"Level 4 and I know how to use [Gemcraft]," she stated.

While Endri wasn't familiar with that particular brand of magecraft, it was the tone of her voice that gave him his doubts…that, and the fact that she was way too low of a level to be of any use to him. After a moment of just staring at her with his forest-green eyes, judging her, he shook his head. "You might be better off staying here then. The level recommended for the area is 7 at least and there's a Boss of some kind there, in addition to adds. No sense in having extra blood on my hands and you can't move fast enough to keep up."

Endri turned to continue to advance to the gate, only to come to a sudden stop as the neck of his green cloak choked him. He turned back to see Yumina clinging to it, He sighed at the sight and asked, "What now?"

"You think I'm unaware of being under-leveled or ill-prepared?" she inquired, her tone laced with anger. She was mad, to say the least, of someone looking down on her for not playing this game of the madman who trapped her in here. She didn't want to play, she didn't want to risk her life, and she didn't like the pain that was associated with using the game's magic system.

But Aoili needed her for once. Even if they hadn't spoken to one another for a time, after all the years they'd known each other and Aoili never once asked for anything in return, she reached out and pleaded with her for help to at least save the boy. Yumina was afraid, but if she let Aoili die after her first cry for help…what would be the point in staying alive then because she abandoned her to die?

She was going. Even if she had to run out and save her on her own, she would do it. "I'm going to save my friend, whether you take me or not. If you won't let me come then just give me the map data so I can go myself without running all over this Godforsaken place trying to get there before it's too late!"

"Troublesome…" Endri scratched his cheek and thought it over, before he sighed again. Technically speaking, he could easily ditch her. But if she ran off and got herself killed his brother would probably blame himself for that since this was his self-admitted fault. "Fine, we'll party up. I can't stop you one way or another, but at least this way the odds of getting something done increases rather than adding to the number of missing persons."

She released him at that point, and he opened up his menu to send a party invitation. He then factually added, "Still, it would be better to have an extra member with more experience."

"If you don't mind, I'll join you," spoke another player, standing next to the teleportation gate. They both turned their heads to see a black-scarf wearing player walking forward from the teleportation gate. "I was just coming in and heard her yelling…I think I've got the jist of everything. I'll be the extra person. "

"Reinforcements only make a difference when they don't get killed in a single hit," Endri stated, shooting a glance at Yumina. "I'm not taking on anymore dead weight, so what's your Level and Magecraft?"

"I've been practicing with [Reinforcement] for a bit, to where I can do it safely and enhance my entire body, as well as others," he stated. "Level-wise, I'm Level 8."

"Not bad, not bad," Endri admitted. But to be sure he understood the risks, he added, "We'll probably be running up against a [Flag Mob] that's capable of regeneration and potentially a dozen of trash mobs accompanying it. Are you willing to risk your life when you have no stake in this otherwise?"

The player's closed in thought for a moment. Then he nodded and spoke with resolve. "I…don't want to be a coward anymore. I can help, so I will."

"Better odds than before, I suppose…" Endri extended a party invite to him as well, which was accepted. Thus he saw that the black-haired player with a scarf covering his lower face was named [Sanda]. "But let's get this straight, both of you. I'm calling the shots since I'm the highest level at 11 and I know the way there. Got it?"

They both nodded, not really being able to argue with him on that point. With that settled, Endri turned towards the direction of the gate with the two others on his back. Pulling the hood of his cloak over his head, he said, "Let's go then."

Chapter 1 - End