After two days of fighting lower-level mobs of monsters, Yumi and I reach level ten. The farming slows down and I realize we’re not going to get anywhere just from killing lesser demons and killer harpies, especially considering the respawn times.
“We need to go after bigger enemies,” I say as we sit on the grass, waiting for our stamina to recover. It’s surprising how much we run and I can feel my legs ache, just as I feel the heaviness of my staff. “And to do that, we need to find a guild.”
“All the guilds that have been formed are already full,” Yumi said in-between breaths.
“We’ll make our own guild. How hard could it be?” I ask before opening the guild creation window.
A blue translucent screen pops up in front of us. Because Yumi and I are in a party, she can see my screen too. I scroll down, searching for the ‘New Guild’ button. When I finally find it, I hit it with my index finger and begin entering the details: setting it to request only and low level players and making Yumi my co-leader. No good will come from working with high-levelers, or else they’ll assume leadership and get us killed. I have no intention of dying in this game.
“What should we name the guild?” Yumi asks, leaning closer to me despite having a full view of our guild in front of her.
“I got just the perfect name,” I reply as I type ‘Heroes of Redemption.’ “What do you think? Too cheesy?”
“Maybe just a little,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t know, it’s wearing on me. Look! You’ve already got requests.”
I click on the first request, viewing the profile of a level seven female bard who goes by the name Serafina. She has lilac-colored hair and a pair of large round glasses. Her listed skills include cooking and sewing. A healer would come in handy. I accept the request and it takes me to the second person.
It reveals Mist, a level twelve male tank, who has a large wooden shield for his equipped weapon. He has a head of black hair and a serious gaze, but his personality describes him as a gentle giant. Despite his large frame, there’s something about him that I know I can trust. His skills include blacksmithing. A perfect combination for a team who needs new gear. The window dings as I hit the acceptance button.
The final requester is a level twenty-five assassin who wields dual pistols. His skills include tracking, navigation, and camouflage. I glance at his profile picture, feeling like I’ve met him before. His familiar light brown hair and piercing sterling gray eyes. It can’t be. My gaze flashes to the username, noticing it’s The Gun. The same name as that persistent boy from the game store. Surely he doesn’t know it’s me. Even if he does, he wouldn’t bother me if I hit no, would he?
Before I can muster the courage to hit decline, Yumi is already one step ahead of me, adding him to the guild.
“Yumi, no!” I exclaim.
“We need him. Everyone else is low level like you wanted, but think of a level twenty-five assassin! He must have visited the next Mythic Kingdom by now. We could use his knowledge to beat the first side quest,” she explains, staring at me in confusion. “It’s almost like you know the guy.” She notices my silence and a smirk appears on her face in an instant. “Wait… The Gun… he’s that guy from Mr. Wu’s store! It must be destiny.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Yumi,” I said, trying to calm my rapidly beating heart.
“Then you won’t mind if I call them to meet us at the dungeon of the first boss,” she replies coyly, knowing she’s cornered me.
“Not at all,” I lie, not wanting her to see my tough exterior crumble away. Please don’t recognize me, please don’t recognize me… I chant over and over again in my head.
We follow the dirt path leading to a dark forest, where the dungeon begins. The branches have blackened and a high-pitch whistle is carried by the icy breeze. Our new guild members are already waiting for us at the dungeon’s entrance. Serafina is shorter than I imagined, but every bit the nervous wreck I predicted. She has long hair that falls to her knees, but uses it as a blanket to hide her body from unwanted gazes.
“What if there are empusas in there?” Serafina says, shivering.
“The Goddess of Witchcraft would never unleash that kind of evil on humans. Just because she lives in the Underworld doesn’t mean she’s evil, Sera. Besides, nothing will get past me. This shield is big enough to keep you from harm,” Mist replies, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder, trying to calm her down as she begins to panic about what kind of monsters lurk within the darkness. He runs his hand through his black hair, his green eyes full of patience and understanding as he listens to each of Serafina’s concerns and refutes them with promises he’ll protect her should something happen.
The Gun, or should I say Braeden, sits on a rock, listening to the ominous howls of whatever creature is waiting to be slain in the forest’s depths. He turns his head and his eyes widen in surprise, and I know he’s discovered who I am. I hold a hand up to stop him and say, “Quiet. We’re here to do a mission and that’s the only reason you’re here. If you annoy me even a little bit, I won’t hesitate to cut you loose. There are plenty of assassins in the game.”
“It’s nice to see you, Mai,” Braeden says, ignoring my threats. “I thought you’d pick a mage.”
“Watch it,” I reply, pointing at him in warning.
“No, I mean it suits you. You look like a determined leader. I wouldn’t have picked another person to lead us to victory.” His flattery makes me roll my eyes.
“You should have stopped at ‘nice to see you, Mai,’” Mist mutters as I take my place in front of the dungeon to lead the group. “Less is more, Braeden.”
My gaze flickers between the two of them. “Did I miss something or do you two know each other?”
“Yes, we’re childhood friends. Serafina also happens to be Mist’s girlfriend in real life,” Braeden explains.
“A simple yes would have sufficed. Are we going to do this dungeon or not?” I ask, growing impatient.
“I’ll start the quest,” Yumi replies, flipping through a screen I couldn’t see from where I stand. Whatever she does appears to trigger the mission as a quest title appears in gold front over the dungeon’s entrance that reads ‘Guide Theseus out of the Cursed Labyrinth.’
My mind wanders to the ancient Greek tale, remembering how the story unfolded. There once was a monster that lurked within a mystical labyrinth. One day, Theseus, the hero of Athens, announced to King Minos that he would kill the monster. Even if Theseus managed to kill such a creature, he would never be able to find his way back to the labyrinth’s exit. It wasn’t until Princess Ariadne, King Minos’ daughter, fell in love with Theseus and helped him escape the labyrinth by following the trail of thread she gifted him. This thread saved his life and gave him a new life of happiness with Princess Ariadne as his wife. Seems simple enough.
“All we need to do is use a golden thread to guide Theseus out of the labyrinth. It’s an easy quest, but that implies that we can find Theseus. We need to keep track of our starting point so we don’t end up lost,” Braeden explains. “If we get lost, the quest will reset us here after thirty minutes, but given the wait time, we probably don’t want to time out the quest.”
“You got any thread?” I ask Serafina, knowing she has to have some on her due to her sewing skills.
She opens her inventory and a spindle of blue thread appears in her hands out of nowhere. Mist breaks off a branch for her to tie the thread to the end and shoves it into the ground to keep the spindle in place.
She pulls the blue string as we enter the forest, and it emits a neon glow as soon as it touches the ground. The trees we saw at the dungeon’s entrance disappear, having been replaced by the stone walls of a maze. As terrified as I should have been for being in a maze many people have died in, I’m not the least bit frightened.
Braeden leads us to Theseus, who is covered in black blood. His head is hunched over in his arms and he pulls his knees closer to his chest trying to retain warmth in the cold environment. He chants, “I’m sorry, Ariadne,” over and over again. For a moment, I’m surprised by Braeden’s reliability. He knew with great certainty where Theseus would be.
He tosses the delirious Theseus over his shoulder, leading the way out, while ignoring the glowing thread on the ground. It’s almost like he’s memorized the path. He’s not an ordinary player.
He turned around to meet my gaze and asks, “Are you coming, Mai? I don’t recommend staying here at night. The dungeon can play tricks on your eyes.”
“I’m not that weak,” I retort, running to catch up to them. I glanced around cautiously, wondering if some secret enemy would pop out and ambush us. “That was too easy. I thought we’d have to kill the Minotaur.”
“You’ve heard of the myth?” he asks. I nod and he continues, “Theseus is the one to slay the Minotaur. Not us. We’re just here to ensure he gets his happy ending with Ariadne. Besides, it would be strange if the first boss was hard. There will be greater challenges as we progress through the story.”
“How many times have you gone through this dungeon?” I ask, unable to control my curiosity.
“Once. Why?” he replies, raising a brow in confusion.“No reason.” His memory is impeccable. I suppose I can suffer through the remaining levels with him since he’s proven his worth.