Reconnaissance: Eastern Saga

This story follows the team Menace throughout the lands of Second Life and the trials and interactions with the various players and missions as they act on behalf of the Game Heads to expose the hidden agenda of the Game Creator. As the motives and the crimes of the creator surface in more details out in the world of reality, they find the only means of unlocking the secrets is by dominating the five key holders and extracting the codes they possess. The hope is that they can do so before time runs out for both in-game and real-world dwellers.

ES 01: Path to a Mage

-Lead in from Parallels Chapter 6-

"If that's what works for you, we can call it that. Your name?" He offered his hand again.

She looked at his hand and took hold of it. "Angel" she said to the point, and then pulled herself up to a standing position. "A soon to become mage, I guess."

Renegade released her hand and the other team members began to gather in. He nodded to her consent of the position with his non-fading smile.

"Well then Angel, welcome to Menace."

"Hmph!" Whisper remarked, still annoyed by the whole run of events. "I still don't get why all of you are fawning over this girl. She's nothing special, despite what you guys were saying!"

"'Fawning'?" Angel questioned, clearly interested in the back story but letting it go in the next instant. "Well, I can't say there's anything special either." She remarked matter-of-factly. "After all, I just got decimated on the playing field, and am only a level… 'Profile'! A level 5 newbie who wasn't even sure what class I wanted to be."

Renegade laughed a little by her sudden need to affirm her level in the middle of conversation by calling up her profile just like that. He moved around the side of the screen and looked over her details. "Hmmm? I guess you are just a level 5 character. So you leveled four times just now? It's a pity that lower level characters are restricted from experience binges that would pump your level instantaneously. To think that the diminishing returns would be this severe…"

"It's what you would expect." Whisper stated as he turned away from her stat screen. "We were the ones that killed them."

"All the same, with an amount of experience typically worth what it takes to level to 20, only resulting in four levels gain is just an annoying factor." Braun said supportively. "I guess that can't be helped. Instead of questioning why the system works the way it does, perhaps we should be thinking of helping you in other ways?"

"Other ways?" Angel asked, and then realized the state of her attire. Though she was still covered with cloth over all the parts of her now womanly-body that should be covered, there was still a lot more skin exposed than what was character typical. The fact that she ripped most of it away into part of her battle clothes aside, she was also lacking across one entire shoulder and along her collar bone. With all the added holes from her prior injuries, it was a wonder she wasn't falling out of what was left. Even funnier was that as a male Chao Cheng wouldn't have thought anything of it, but given female nature, her hand instinctively went to shield even the minor exposure from their eyes.

"Besides the wardrobe adjustments," Renegade added in lightly as he pulled a long cloak from his inventory, "we need to get you to a useful state as quick as possible. After all, Infamy waits for no one.

"You up for it, or was that little scuffle enough for you to call it a day?" He asked as he held the garment out to her.

She smiled wryly as she plucked the cloak from his hand, threw it around her body, and fastened it secure before giving a glance over her shoulder. "So does anyone know the requirements for becoming a sorceress, or will we just have to worry about it when we get back to the city later?"

With that said, she flicked her head back around and started off down the path of prior destruction towards the deeper woods.

"I guess going back for a meal is out of the question now?" Asked Whisper in an annoyed fashion.

"Ha!" Renegade declared in good humor as he placed his one hand on Whisper's head while pushing a package containing meat buns into his hands. "I think you worry too much about the trivial things."

Whisper shook Renegade's hand from his head and grumbled as he left to catch up the girl walking away from them. Braun, Sorrow, and Dusk seemed to be just as eager in the newest addition. Whisper could care less.

"What's so trivial about my stomach?" Whisper said to no one in particular. "It's important to me…"

*****

-Later on-

"Hmmm… so Renegade and Whisper are brothers?" Angel said absently as she inputted the changes in her stats and abilities. Below her was what was left of what used to be a formidable monster, now reduced to a temporary seat. "I wouldn't have guessed that there would be siblings working together."

"Yeah, it isn't a common thing these days." Renegade stated simply. "Especially when we're both of the dual weapon warrior class."

"Dual weapon?" Angel asked, looking up briefly. "I thought you used a two handed weapon?"

Renegade smiled in immediate reply before adding a quip. "Do I?"

"Well," Angel started as her gaze shifted back to her task at hand—a strand of her long hair confined to her mouth's edge helped to portray the level of dedication she had to her task—before finishing her thought. "It doesn't matter either way.

"And what of Braun, Dusk, and Sorrow? Any relations there?"

"Only that we're all registered partners of a certain guild, as to what that guild is all about, it doesn't really matter at the moment." He dismissed. "Do you think you've gathered enough miscellaneous items in that pouch there?" He nodded his head to indicate her large assortment of various dropped parts of monsters and such that she had been collecting.

She looked down. "No… probably not. Since none of you know the requirements for me to change my career, I'll just keep collecting these things until we've gained enough experience and head back to the city. If it's not here, we can always trade with the lesser players. Assuming there are any still alive after leaving the gates."

"By the way, do you know what stats you are assigning with a fair amount of confidence? Usually one would want to assign things only after they were able to model to their career and character class." Renegade stated, pointing at the already assigned points in her profile. "Sure you can adjust later to what is underdone, but if you add too much?"

"Ha." Angel laughed with a smile of confidence. "I know all about casters and the settings for their stat distributions. Less health because they are a support character, more mana, wisdom, intelligence, and other things relating to magical energy. Some character fortitude and physique so they aren't struck down easily by a stray attack or discharge. I have things covered. Although, I'm not completely following the cookie-cutter mindset. My build is a bit unique."

"Then have you decided on an element yet?" Dusk stated as he came into the conversation. "Mages are supporter types after all, but they can also be very devastating independents as well. Although my own demon class necromancy focuses in supporting curses and restrictions over my opponents, by myself I am more than capable of reducing many of foolish players and monsters that try to challenge me to dust. Choosing the right element and sub-types are an important must if you wish to solo."

"I'm vaguely familiar." Angel admitted. She had faced many types in World as the Guardian of Hell's Abandon after all. Although most of them couldn't hold their own very well, there was a wide selection of possibility, and unfortunately most players tried to disperse their range to include too much. It was probably best to focus mostly in just one area and know how to get away if they proved undesirable.

"Heh, why don't you stop thinking about it too much and simply focus on your defensive abilities?" Whisper interjected with his opinion. "That way you can protect yourself when we can't. Besides, we already have an offensive front, we lack defense - defense is where you'll be best!"

There was a moment of silence as Angel regarded him with a looked of apology, before turning back to what she was doing before.

Renegade sighed because of his foolish sibling, before addressing Braun across the way.

"Braun, hit him for me."

Readily there to oblige his request, Braun delivered the act of retribution before Whisper could even defend himself. Before the whining started, Renegade quickly spoke up to silence him.

"Whisper, why did we try to find a mage, just what were we lacking?" He pressed, hoping it would spur a sense of recollection in the team's youngest member. "Why was a mage so important to us?"

"Wasn't it just to round out the team a bit?" Whisper asked begrudgingly. He had dodged the blow to his head, but suffered a reduction of hit points around his shoulder area. "Support characters are support characters after all."

There seemed to be a collective sigh in the group as Whisper's latest comment did everything to display his ignorance in the entire movement. As he probably wouldn't understand in game terms, Renegade decided to approach the subject in terms of military application.

"Whisper, if you were to compare our team now with troops on a World War II battlefield, what would you have?"

"WWII? Isn't that a bit ancient now?" He asked visibly annoyed. "Something like regular soldiers and snipers, right?"

"Something like that." His sibling supported. "Coupled with specialist like flamethrower units and grenadiers, the basis of our attack team would be a well rounded ground squadron. But what of a giant enemy? Precision strikes against that kind of enemy may take a few soldiers on the opposite side, but what good will those do us when they attack us with an air strike? So we too need our own air support in order to hit them first, and then we pick up the stragglers.

"First there is the area attack, and then we destroy the remainders. That is the point of a mage." Renegade clarified. "Remember that the stronger the more useful. A well developed attack skill set would be as effective as an atomic bomb. Very useful against impossible odds."

"And if that bomb was blocked?" Huffed Whisper in annoyance.

"Then at least whatever had the power to block it is that much weaker." Stated Angel passively. "Although if someone blocked that kind of weapon, it would probably be foolish that you were fighting them to begin with."

"Well, more or less." Added Renegade as Angel seemed to drift completely into what she was doing. "The point being that area attacks round out our team, and that's enough said on that subject. Though looking at her stats I'm beginning to wonder if a mage is what she's really aiming for…"

Almost in response, Angel typed in her last adjustment and the screen in front of her disappeared outright.

"Done already?" Asked Renegade in good humor.

"I ran out of points to assign…" Angel said ruefully. "A level 16 player only has so many to distribute. Should we go kill more monsters? Although I'm not really the one doing so at the moment…"

"I think - not." Renegade stated clearly. "You'll be much more useful if you get at least some kind of ability to aid you after all."

"Besides that, we need to get you something more to wear." Braun mentioned in regards to the cloak around her. "Although that helps, you might as well be wearing a bed sheet."

"Yes," Dusk agreed from the side. "I think that would be wise. The walk is long enough back that we're certain to kill something else in passing, and you really should have become a mage six levels ago. It's past time now."

"Besides that, I'm kind of interested in what kind of weapon you'll get for yourself." Sorrow added. "You don't seem like the typical magical wand or staff type to me… and I'm almost depleted in my stock of arrows as well."

"And I could go for a real meal." Whisper said wistfully as his mind began to sample the options. "I think I'll have-"

"-and no one cares about what you'll have where…" Renegade cut in. "Well, that seems to be the general consensus, is that good for you Angel?"

"Yeah…" she said with her thoughts elsewhere, "that'll work."

Without another word she picked up her sack of miscellaneous objects and fell into step with the others. It wasn't World, but it certainly had its interesting moments.

Although with the path she had begun with her stats, it could possibly become just that much better.

******

-In the city of Azure Dragon-

"So you've decided to be a mage, eh?" Greeted the jovial NPC mage assigner, who was a frail old man with rosy cheeks. "A fine young thing like you looks like you'll be an excellent spell caster - if I do say so myself!"

"Is… that so?" Angel said hesitantly, not really sure what to say. She wasn't even sure if she had the right items, let alone the right way to ask about it. "I guess that would be a good thing. It means I'm making the right decision."

"Haha! You bet!" The eccentric old man announced. "Got your assorted 5 quest items?"

"About that, since I wasn't sure what it required… well," she offered him the bag of items and hoped it had what was needed, "it might be here."

"Might be?" He looked at her peculiarly as he took the bag and gave her a sideways look. "Well, if not I take back what I said… you pretentious youth!"

At once the NPC tore open the bag and began to sort through it when his eyes began to bulge in his sockets.

"What!" He cried out suddenly in surprise. "What, what!! Dragon's tongue, fox claw, Zhen's feather, Peng's foot, this, that, ooh, one of those too?!? And -"

"Is it not enough?" Angel asked slyly. She didn't need the answer to know that she had just brought back some high items. She'd have to thank her new teammates later.

"Not enough?" He said taken aback. "Young lady, you practically gave me a heart attack! No, no, by all means, you are definitely meant for this path!

Well then, choose your weapon type: Staff, wand, scepter, etc, it's your choice really, there are a few who even go with daggers and swords."

"How about… a forearm guard then?"

"Eh?" The old man leaned in closer, his one finger twirling the end of his white beard. "I, did I hear you right? Forearm guard?"

"Yes, if that's alright." She said with a confident air.

"No, that's fine." He stated calmly. "Just the first time I've heard of it.

"Very well, now your element/power, or whatever you want. And up to two sub types to start with. You can always add more later, but you can't take them away. As for what skills you get, you can assign those later after consideration."

"Heh, then I'll take the Electric type as my primary, with subs of metal and water. Because that's what will work best."

"Will it? Well then, if that's your choice…"

******

A moment later the still cloaked Angel strolled out of the Mages' tent and the system chimed overhead with 'Player Angel has changed her career to Mage! Abilities in Electric, metal, water. Skill specifications undecided.'

"Ha… that's noisy." She stated to no one in particular as she strode towards her allies.

"So what kind of weapon did you go for?" Asked Sorrow as soon as she was in earshot.

"An interesting one… probably." Angel said as she reached into her updated inventory and grabbed what would be her new weapon. Without dragging the moment further, she pulled out a black forearm guard, with a small jewel on its top and a rather plain pattern. It was only a first weapon after all.

"What the heck is that?" Whisper declared at once. "I think you were gypped!"

"It is… a bit strange." Sorrow agreed. "Not elegant at all. It doesn't seem to fit."

"Really?" Renegade asked the previous speakers. Dusk and Braun were just silent. "It is a bit interesting. But it's not my preference that matters. What do you think?"

Angel smiled as she slipped it on her right arm. The balance and the weight were just as she hoped.

"What do I think?" She asked with a smile as her hair blew outward in the wind and the forearm guard rested firmly on its new home. "I think it's perfect. And it came in just the right color."

"Well then," Renegade smiled as he extended his hand to her, "Then that is all that matters.

"Once again, welcome to Menace. Mage Angel."