Chapter 1 – Hey, Ashe, What’s Your Name Again?
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I figured I'd toss this up here and see what happens. Suggestions are welcome. The ending is set in stone, the journey isn't. Anyway, the tags will change slightly as we go along. Some of them are in spoiler territory, so they'll be added as you learn of it. Nothing incredibly major, though. As a heads up, romance won't kick in immediately. It's gonna take a little bit for that. I hope you enjoy it.

 

“Agh!” I cried out as something jammed into my ankle. “W-what…” I managed to sputter out a single word as the culprit revealed itself. A frost vein… dammit. Why is that, of all things, here? This is a side path that functionally leads nowhere! I swear, the developers are a special kind of sadistic. Between these and mimics, it’s almost self-explanatory. Who the hell conceptualizes a flower that you have to disarm before picking it?

Bending down, I yanked out the sharpened light blue… root. That’s the best way to describe it. It’s absolutely not a root as it possessed a texture akin to rubber and was cold to the touch, but it ran through the dirt like one.

As expected, right when it was removed, a viscous purple liquid began dripping from the spike. That could’ve been worse. I got it out in time, so paralysis should kick in for only a half-hour. I should have enough time to get to that ridge. Unfortunately, I have nothing to cure it, so I’ll have to suck it up.

“I just need to be alone,” I mumbled to myself, continuing my light jog up the hill despite the venom. My leg was progressively becoming more burdensome, but I pushed on. There’s a gorgeous view up ahead, it should help clear my mind.

An envelope with a red seal in the shape of a rose, popped up in the corner of my eye, staying just long enough for me to swipe it aside.

That was quick. It hasn’t been five minutes, and she noticed I was gone. I’ll respond later. Typing’s about to get a lot more complicated.

I reached the path’s peak with a sigh of relief at the sight of the leafless tree before me. “Here we are.” As soothing as ever. It’s still autumn here, after all. Crisp leaves in varying colors: oranges, browns, and reds all littered the ground, only being interrupted by the occasional lumenflower poking its head out from below. Lumenflowers always glow brightest around this time of night. They absorb moonlight and reflect it back in a color that imitates its environment if I remember right.

“Think of something peaceful, just until your mind calms down.” I took a deep breath in my walk toward the tree, sliding down it. Both of my legs were sufficiently numb by this point. Currently, I’m comfortable, so I can handle it, even when it overtakes my body.

I felt my fingers grow hot as the thought entered my mind.

Swiping my index finger down, a trail of sapphire blue fire followed it revealing a menu after it dispersed. “I’ll need a new item as an excuse, so might as well.”

Darkened blue flames crackled on the edges of my menu, bringing forth mental images that I could only describe as nostalgic. A group of people huddling together around a bonfire in the depths of a frozen forest. I picked this theme for that ‘memory,’ and that alone. I don’t actually have a memory similar to that, yet I still harbor emotions for it. I’m grateful. It’s something to soothe the nerves.

Dragging my finger down to crafting, I pressed the tab, observing as it quickly burnt away to reveal the next menu.

“Maybe a snap freeze?” I suggested aloud as I skimmed the list for the required ingredients. I’m a bit of a hoarder, so generally, I have most of what I need. Not intentionally, it’s more that I neglect to craft items, be they useful or otherwise, so the materials build up over time.

“Nice. I have everything already. I can use checking out loot as an excuse.” I smiled as I went to select Craft.

I went to press down on the metallic button, but another red rose appeared. She’s not gonna leave me be, is she?

“Fine,” I murmured, tapping the rose. It burst into a volley of fireworks, peppering the ground around it with seeds that grew into a litany of roses in moments.

“Why is she so over the top with these?” I sighed at the bouquet of roses, holding her message. Yes, the animation is a special sort of elegant, but I swear she spends more time with those than she does playing the game.

“You okay? You sorta ran off without saying anything? You took yourself off the map too.” - J

“I’m fine, really. I’m sorting loot, so I wanted to be alone.” I quickly typed back as I felt the veins in my arm grow cold, my hand numbing along with them. Damn, I hope she doesn’t talk long.

She really doesn’t need to know I’m hiding until everyone gets the after battle chatter out of their system. I’d genuinely not prefer to be the center of attention when everyone realizes ‘hey, our healer was just thrown like a ragdoll across the map.’ When that realization kicks in, all eyes will be drawn to me. Then I get the oh so delightful benefit of my introversion punching me in the throat, effectively shutting me up while everyone roasts my shit performance.

Yes, it's all in good fun, but I don't like having the spotlight drawn to me in general, so I'd really like to avoid that in its entirety.

“But you usually say something. I can talk if you need to. I don’t mind.”

I went to respond, adamant that I was okay, but my fingers weren’t cooperating. They refused to obey my commands. Now of all times, really?

I tried to do the same with my left hand, but I quickly discovered that it was further gone than my right. Great... fucking fantastic. Now she’s going to get worried and hunt me down.

Leaning back, I sighed, “At least I’m not in combat.” I’d most likely be dead by now, which on second thought, could be a boon minus the pain obviously. Aside from the death penalty, that is a speedy way to rid yourself of debuffs.

“Just think of something soothing to kill time.” I exhaled sharply as I twiddled my thumbs... well tried to.

I could try picturing Ruby... nevermind. It’s way too soon for that. I’ll try visualizing that tree on the way to school. Just thinking about it calms me down for some reason.

I let my eyes drift shut, the rest of my body wholly succumbing to the venom's temptation as I fell to my side directly into a pile of leaves.

Think. You should be able to paint a perfect mental picture of it by now.

The image blossomed in seconds, a small sapling bursting from the earth in a puff of dust. After the smoke subsided, branches shot outwards with a storm of leaves circling the tree as they fastened themselves to each segment. A gust of wind kicked up a flurry of snow from the void, adorning the leaves with a fresh coat of ice.

“I wonder what you really looked like,” I mumbled to myself as a moon rose in my vision, causing the tree to glisten.

“Ashe!” A shrill feminine voice pierced the night, shattering my thoughts. Dammit, Jordan, how are you so fast? I thought I’d have more time. Why must she pick trees that focus on tracking? It’s not even the most optimized build, but she still makes it work somehow.

My eyes flew open along with me, doing my best to sound surprised, saying, “Hey, how’s it going?” I beamed. Nice, I still have control of my face. Either that or more time passed than I realized while I was busy fawning over that tree.

“Why are you on the ground?” She called over to me in her dash to my side.

“Because I’m studying the texture of the leaves?” I suggested as our eyes met. “Quality stuff, by the way. Has to be at least 3840 by 2160.”

“You’re paralyzed, aren’t you?” She gave me a knowing sigh, brushing a strand of blonde hair from her bright sea-green eyes.

“Guilty,” I mumbled, wanting nothing more than to shove the rest of my face into the pile. Frost veins are my arch-nemesis. I might literally be the only player in this game that has an issue with them.

In silence, she sat beside me and attempted to place my head in her lap.

“What are you doing?” I squeaked, holding back a blush.

“I’m not letting you lay on the ground.” She smiled triumphantly, placing me in her lap despite my very obvious complaints. “And you aren’t in a position to refuse, so... I win.” She shrugged. I detest her at times.

“You don’t have anything to counteract this, do you?” I pried, the reddening of her face being more than sufficient of an answer. She knows our rule. You have to buy at least five of every cure for debuffs before we begin a quest. She can’t invoke it against me either, because I used mine up during our last fight.

“Shut up.” She murmured as she started tending to my messy black hair. “I forget to stock up.”

“I’ll grant you mercy,” I grinned, “this time.”

“Oh, how very gracious of you.” She stifled a laugh, her slight smile fading a second after pulling a leaf fragment from my hair. “Why are you up here, by the way?” I can’t say I wasn’t expecting that question.

“The view’s nice?” I suggested, glancing at the full moon peeking out behind the darkened clouds. A dragon emerged from the blanket of clouds, displaying its grace via a fiery twirl. For a second, my heart sped up in anticipation of another fight. My fears, thankfully, were quenched when it set its sights on a distant, abandoned castle.

“You’re an awful liar.” She exhaled in disappointment. “You’re up here because of that last fight, aren’t you?”

Desperate to move my limbs, I pulled off a roll-out of her lap only to land face-first into the dirt with a defeated mutter, “yes. You caught me, happy?”

“No,” she sulked as she pulled me back into her lap. “I don’t like being right if it means you’re beating yourself up. Besides, it makes me feel like I didn’t do my job properly.”

“Um... I’m the one who got hit? Learned how to fly, too,” I questioned with a bit of smartassery sprinkled on top. How is she twisting this back to it being her fault? At this point, I’m legitimately impressed. It’s a constant with her.

“Well, I’m the tank, as you know, so it’s my job to make sure you don’t take damage. Ideally, I take it for you.” She frowned as she furrowed her brow. “You just had to roll away? All you did was get dirt on your face.” She shook her head as a brown glass bottle and rag materialized in her hands.

“It beats being told to stop beating myself up.” I rolled my eyes. She’s going to say it. I know her all-too-well by now. The conclusion to all of our conversations (of this nature anyway) can be summed up like that.

Popping the cork off the bottle, she wet the rag and started dabbing my face as hers reddened. What’d I say? That’s a pretty standard response from me by now. At least to her. I feel like I can be myself, so I don’t bite my tongue as much.

“There a problem?” I winced, wriggling my nose as the ice-cold cloth came in contact.

“N-no... j-just remembered an agreement I made.” She nervously stuttered as she removed a few more leaves.

“Care to sha-”

“No!” She cut me off with a squeak. “H-how much time do you have with the venom, y-yet?!”

“Rude,” I remarked, feigning offense. “And I’d love to tell you, but you know... no movement, so me seeing a clock is a long shot.”

Tossing the bottle aside, she took a deep breath. “Okay, time being a factor is off the table then. She can tell when I lie too, so can you just tell her you said no?”

“Sure,” I smirked maliciously. “You just gotta tell me what I’m saying no to.”

“I hate you so much sometimes.” She suspired out of glaring irritation. Oh, this has to be good. It’s a rare day when she tells me she hates me. She doesn’t usually have the heart to say it to me, regardless of it being in jest.

“Now come,” I laughed, poking fun at her dismay. “Lay unto me your message. I’m expecting great news!”

“Fine,” she grumbled. “I didn’t want to tell you this, but I made a deal with Nat.”

“With Nat?” Jordan? And Nat? Making a deal? Why do I have the worst feeling about this? “What was it?”

“She said she’d hurt me if I backed out of it.” She answered in a voice so squeaky she’d give a mouse a run for his money.

I know I shouldn’t laugh at her, but I can’t help it. Her face is so red right now it’s killing me. If I wasn’t immobile, I’d likely be cackling so hard I’d go hoarse.

“Then hit me with it, so she doesn’t hit you.” I waved her on. Okay, I lied, that’s what I would have liked to do. All I succeeded in performing was a stiff nod. I wonder what she's going to do to her. I honestly can't picture Nat hurting someone. At best, maybe shout? And that's iffy at best.

“Okay,” she nodded with a breath so deep I could swear she was trying to pop her lungs. “Here goes...” She trailed.

“And without further ado...” I’m clearly not helping right now.

“I like you!” She spat out, promptly cupping her hands over her mouth as her eyes widened.

What?

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