Iris is no longer the adventurers' main priority. She is now on the back of our minds, lingering silently. The real goal nowadays is to improve your gear, get a higher rank - 200 is the max, after all, and nobody I know is even close - finish dotnuri and index, just for the sake of bragging rights, and so forth.

And I, a 195-rank sword dancer, have decent enough gear that I can focus on just hanging out with friends while helping out with bosses here and there. I'm of help when I join my friends' and guildies' parties, and not a total burden. Thank Iris for that. But yeah, socializing would be what I live for.

Except... except things are about to change.

Around half an hour ago, I joined a Degos slaying party. We can't kill him, of course; nothing in this world ever dies, for everything is regenerated. However, his temporary downfall is enough for the party to take a few of the numerous equips that he hoards.

Aside from the minstrel, we all know each other inside and out. We are all in the same guild, of course, but our friendship is more than just guild family relations. All seven of us have been best friends since we were too nubby to farm anything but prirings. In fact, we created the guild together, helping it grow from day one. We know each other's moves, and our cooperation tactics are flawless.The minstrel couldn't possibly do anything wrong, because even if nobody really knew him, all he has to do is buff and heal.

Precisely because we have been Degos-hunting together so many times before, because we know nothing can go wrong, the majority haven't bothered bringing resurrection pots. It's a waste of ely, quite frankly.

As soon as we reach Degos, he attacks, multiple times in a row. The minstrel stands frozen, too afraid to heal, and while all of us have a surplus of potions, we just can't drink fast enough. Suddenly, someone's hit point status reaches zero, and he is dead. It's Norang, our ruin walker, which is rather ironic. Norang hasn't died on anyone from the day his rank was promoted to seventy-one.

Some of us grumble under our breaths, but it's nothing serious. Norang knows the way perfectly, and he's the swiftest among us. He can easily return at the speed of a tiger at full-speed upon a prey. And like magic, the minstrel starts healing again with a few words of apology, so we'll sail smooth once he comes back.

Except he isn't being automatically warped to a save stone. He just lies there, mute, his body growing more rigid by the second. This doesn't make sense, it isn't supposed to be happening. For a split second, I'm worried he might be trolling us, but then I change my mind. Norang wanted to do a speed Degos run more than anyone else here. But why isn't he being warped?

"Uh, Nor, are you gonna come back?" asks CherryApple, our maestro. Quite frankly, she looks pissed. "An extra attacker would be nice, you know?"

He says nothing, but Norang isn't the silent type. Cherry and I look around, meeting the gazes of the others' equally confused eyes.

I stop attacking and go towards him. He's cold, and all of a sudden, his talk watch - the item we all have, the thing we use to communicate with guildies, buddies, and party members from far away, among many other features - starts beeping a drone tone rapidly. I grab his wrist to look at his watch. Where there should be a pulse on the top right corner in tiny white numbers, there is only a single word in red.

NULL

I look at the others, who have stopped attacking to gather around me and Norang's limp body. It's obvious, what has happened to Norang, and everyone knows it before a single word can be uttered. Degos continues thrashing, but we manage to stun it and quickly dash to the right, to a place that we know he cannot see.

"This is impossible," I say after a silence that seems to last forever. "This... I don't understand."

"How did he, you know?" Flettere, our fragile wind elemental master, sobs. Flet and Norang are the best of couples, or were, I suppose, always doting on each other like the world could end in a matter of seconds. I suppose it just did for Norang, and Flet's undoubtedly going to have a hard time recovering. "Why isn't he coming back? He's going to come back, right? Please tell me he's coming back!"She starts hiccuping profusely.

The next few words are insults, as opposed to lamentation: "Why didn't you heal, you idiot of a mini? What do you think you're here for? To leech? I can find a better healer in a mage who has just turned bard! Iris, such a nub.."

It is Seiici who speaks those words, and it's understandable, even expected. Seiici was never seen without Norang, and vice versa, except for when Norang was on a date with Flet. Occasionally, though, Sei would interrupt their dates just so he could hang out with his best friend. Nobody is surprised at the outburst except the minstrel, who argues back with a large frown.

"How was I supposed to know that he'd die for real? This has never happened before! And I was scared, okay? You can't blame a guy for being scared!" Even the minstrel's voice has an edge of hysteria in it, perhaps because he realizes that he has turned everyone in the party into his foe. A part of it is definitely confusion, and maybe another part of it is plain guilt. He knows he shouldn't have been scared, because true death was impossible to his knowledge until just a few minutes ago.

"Freaking coward!" it is Red, one of the phantom mage twins, who speaks next. "I thought you knew the way. Yes, you knew the way. You were freakin' egging us on, leading the way like we were too slow. Obviously you've done Degos before-"

Her twin, Orange, cuts her off and finishes off the sentence in a much louder tone, a voice loud enough to shake the world. "So what was there to be so afraid of?"

Our bladeslinger, Green Screen - GS for short - remains silent, assessing the situation. Something makes me ticked off at him, although I've always known him to be the silent type.

"And GS, you act like nothing's wrong!" I screech. I don't mean to be mean, I really don't, especially not to a friend of mine, but the pressure has gotten to me. "Aren't you scared? Do you realize who has died, for real and eternity? Your friend and guildie and family member and grinding buddy and I don't even know! Remember that time when he saved you? Countless times? Dying himself? Yeah! How are you so placid to Norang's death?"

I realize I'm blabbing, and stop myself immediately, but it's too late. GS always has subtle expressions on his face, often so minuscule that nobody can see the changes in his moods, but the pain and shock on his face is wretchedly plain to see now.

"I'm sorry," I whisper, "I... know you're hurt too. I'm so sorry.."

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[ A/N ]: LaTale isn't working for me, due to some computer issues [iunno]... .=. So I was like, "oh screw this, I'm bored... I'LL WRITE A FAN-FIC!" /shot

I know the story's kind of slow, I promise it'll get better at like chapter 5-ish. Maybe. Hopefully. If I even write that much.