"Umm, how do I use the magic skillet again?" Serena asked as she held a skillet that would've looked no different from a normal skillet if not for the rune-like carvings on its side.
"Just like how you use any magic equipment. Just pour magic power into it," Iina explained.
"Like this?" Serena closed her eyes and saw in her mind's eye a mist-like thing moving from her arms toward the skillet. She felt the same jolt of electricity moving from her heart, down to her arms, to her hands, before it disappeared into the skillet. Her magic power successfully entered the skillet and activated the runes on the side.
The result was a flamethrowing magic skillet.
"Stop! Stop! Are you trying to burn the house?" Iina yelled as she quickly covered the skillet in a blanket, which also caught fire.
It took them ten minutes to stop the flames. Another five minutes to clear the smoke and almost an hour listening to Grandpa Luus's scolding. In the end, instead of cooking fried chicken, Iina banned Serena from the kitchen and had Serena help Grandpa Luus fix the parts of the house damaged by the fire instead. Thankfully, the villagers living nearby lent their hands. Being a rich girl, Serena had absolutely no idea how to fix a house.
"We're off, Grandpa," Iina yelled as she stepped out.
"Ah," Grandpa Luus answered from inside the forge attached to the house.
Serena picked up her school backpack, originally filled with books and stationery, now empty save for a few bottles of water and provisions. Other than her school uniform, her backpack was her only possession in this world. She had a credit card and cash in her purse, but she simply knew both had only as much value as a dashboard ornament here.
She recalled the conversation last night when Grandpa Luus returned her backpack.
"That's very good leatherwork. Did you make it yourself?" Grandpa Luus asked as he handed Serena the backpack.
Serena was about to say yes, as telling him that she bought it at a designer store would bring up more questions. But then she recalled that the mycras weren't known for leatherworking. The mycras were the people of the forge, Serena never allocated any points to leatherworking. So she answered in the only way that made sense.
"It was my father's. He bought it from a grass bunny by the name of Armani."
In AGO, 'grass bunnies' or just 'bunnies' were minions of Doubt, the Rabbit of Murder. Unlike their name, the grass bunnies were omnivorous, eating both vegetables and meat equally. They were a little shorter than a human, standing at only 5 feet tall at the most from their feet to the top of their heads if their tall rabbit ears were to be ignored. Unlike real rabbits, they didn't have the large front teeth, their teeth were no different from human teeth. In fact, aside from the nose and ears, they looked just like a normal human. One of Doubt's pencil sketches even made them look like cosplaying human.
Ability-wise, they could jump the highest among humanoid races. They were ranked second behind the necattans when it came to surviving a fall from great heights. They were also very agile in battle, making them the only human-sized race that could fight the marble giants as equals.
The grass bunnies were also the best when it came to leather products. Their best leather armour had as much protection as mass-produced steel plate mail while remaining light and not restricting movement. Serena thought it was the best cover for the bag.
"But the grass bunnies are all dead," Grandpa Luus said.
Of course, that cover would be useless if they were all extinct.
"Umm, no, father said he bought it from the grass bunnies. It must be true!" Sorry daddy, let me use your name just this once.
Serena could feel her daddy raising a thumbs up while saying, "It's fine. It's fine."
"Hm, I see. He must have found remnant communities of them somewhere. I'm sorry that I make you remember your father. I was just curious," Grandpa Luus said as he patted Serena's head, "Why don't you show the bag to Uuki? I think she'd give you something for your time, just don't forget to tell her not to take it apart."
Serena couldn't remember who Uuki was, but she guessed she was probably a tanner or leatherworker. Not that she cared either way. She would let nobody touch the only useful thing she had left.
"But isn't this great?" Iina jumped in, "This bag seems more durable than our baskets, then wouldn't this mean it can carry more stuff?"
What are you getting at?
"How about you go gather materials with me tomorrow, Serena?"
"Gather materials? You mean for crafting?"
"But I don't know anything about gathering materials."
"You didn't learn that from your parents?"
They taught me other things. My parents taught me ethics, house cleaning, accounting, riding a bike and cooking. Gathering minerals was not part of my education.
"Don't worry, Serena. Just do what Iina do. You'll learn in no time."
"You're not coming with us, grandpa?"
"I would've, at first. But with Serena there, there won't be much need for me to be there too. Anyway, I've been wanting to start work on that runed plough. Hopefully, I'll finish in time for our trip to Delena."
"If that's the case, then it's okay. I'll teach Serena everything she needs to know."
Serena just stayed quiet. After all, she had been freeloading in this house for a week. She thought it was about time she earned her keep. She wasn't raised to be a slacker. She wasn't Alice, after all.
It was afternoon when they finally arrived at the gathering place. It wasn't really far with their mycran stats, only dangerous and tiring. Several times, Serena lost her footing and if not for the rope attached to Iina's waist, she would've fallen two hundred feet to her death. Their destination was the peak of a mesa, where rare herbs and mineral could be collected for those who dare to tempt the treacherous path.
Unlike the rest of the valley, this region was often rocked with minor earthquakes. Most the time, it could easily be predicted beforehand but sometimes earthquakes happen without warning. For those on the ground, it was merely at the level of uncomfortable shaking, but for those scaling the rocky cliff side, those uncomfortable shaking could easily dislodge them from the rock they were hanging on to. This was why it was considered a very hard location to gather from.
Which made Serena wonder why Iina chose this place for her first time.
"Alright! We're done here. Let's go down," Iina said as she picked up her basket, almost completely filled with ores of all kind.
Serena wanted to question how so many different ores could be found at the same place but decided not to. After all, this was the game world of AGO. Serena had never gone this far south but she knew from experience that common sense could rarely be applied to the landscape of AGO. The players as gods could modify the landscape at will if they were willing to spend all those faiths that could be better used for winning the game.
At least this mesa wasn't as common sense-defying as The Magical Milk Fountain of Titty Mountain. Delicious Creamer was such a pervert. If it was any other game, he would've been banned for age-inappropriate content.
Serena picked up her own backpack, also filled to bursting with ores of all kind. She hefted the pickaxe she used just before, thinking again how light something that looked so heavy felt in her hands. Thank goodness for Strength 7, she thought. Before either of them could grab the rope and descend, Serena heard the sound of flapping wings.
"Thunder crows!" Iina cried when she saw two human-sized crows flying towards them fast from the south.
Serena had heard of thunder crows, but never actually seen them outside of the pictures that Whimmer the Thunder Goddess posted in the forum. Supposedly they were born with a great affinity to air magic and inability to perform any other kind of magic. In exchange for these, they get increased physical and magical talents and immunity to air magics besides their natural ability to fly.
"Gather the rocks, Serena. Just pelt them with it!" Iina said as she gathers fist-sized ores from the ground.
"Will this work on them?" Serena asked while picking up rocks around her.
"Who knows? We don't have any better weapon!"
Serena however, had a better idea. Or so she thought. It was worth a try anyway.
"Spirits of wood, spirits of air," Serena chanted. She didn't know if it would work since much of her power as Aelrea from the game never activated. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw two coloured lights, one green and one yellow appeared before her eyes.
In AGO, to perform magic, one must first call the spirits. This defines the elements in play. Only once it is done that the main aria can be chanted.
"Gather wind in my hands," Serena chanted as wind started gathering between her palms, "Bring sharp wood into the wind," Serena continued as wood chips as sharp as knives formed inside the raging wind between her palms, "Materialize, Sickle Winds!"
Serena threw the ball of wind towards the two thunder crows. The wind expanded into a tornado, engulfing both thunder crows in its strong, debilitating flow. However, the wind did nothing to the thunder crows, only the wood managed to wound them, but the damage was minimal.
"What is this? It tickles!" The thunder crows laughed. It actually sounded more like cawing in Serena's ears.
"As expected. I can't defeat them with wind magics, even with the addition of wood element," Serena muttered.
In general, wood element magics are most effective for recovery instead of dealing damage. The reason she used wood element with wind element was that both elements were the most effective crowd control magic in AGO. Metal element, which deals the most physical damage has a very low affinity with wind element.
"Spirits of fire!" Serena chanted with her forefinger pointed at the two thunder crows. A red orb of light appeared in front of Serena as she finished calling the element.
"Gather fire at my finger. Release in a burst. Materialize, Flame Spout!" A fountain of fire burst forth from her forefinger, burning the first thunder crow, making it fall from the sky. The second one managed to avoid the burst of flames. Serena thought he must have already guessed the type of magic she would cast.
This was the reason why most players chose not to practice battle magics. While in theory, any player could use any magic unless they chose perks that stripped them of such ability, in practice nobody would use magic in battle unless it was a lazy, easy fight where you were just having fun bullying a much weaker opponent. In a real battle between two evenly matched players, by the time a player finished casting one magic, the other would've already delivered about a dozen blows. The magic system was simply that troublesome.
There was an exception, however. Fleeting Coffeepot the Goddess Who Weaved Magic aka the self-proclaimed Mistress of Magic was the only one who fought completely using magic. There was a good reason for that. Fleeting Coffeepot cheated. Unlike Serena and Ukhlar, she didn't cheat using cash items. Fleeting Coffeepot hacked the server. She programmed the keywords that allowed her to use shortened chants of programmed magic spells.
Unfortunately for the rest of the players, nobody knew what the keywords were. The developers tried, again and again, to ban her and patch the game, but she kept coming back and hacked the server again after the game was patched. By the time the final five players were announced, the issue called Fleeting Coffeepot Problem was still not solved.
The other thunder crow glared at Serena and shouted, "Glory of Whimmer!"
The first lightning struck very close to Serena. She could feel her hair rose from the electric charge in the air. Then the second lightning came down. Then the third, and the fourth. Before she could count, almost a dozen lightning had struck the mountaintop.
All Serena could think of while barely avoiding the lightning strikes was protecting Iina. "Spirits of gold, spirits of earth. Gather under her feet. Materialize, Lightning Ward!"
Right after Serena cast the spell, a feeling of fatigue washed over her body. It made her unable to avoid the next lightning strike, with no physical strength to avoid it, she was hit from above by one lightning strike. Then another lightning strike hit her and she was barely able to push herself away to avoid the third strike, which hit the ground where she was a second ago.
[HP and MP bars activated] appeared in her vision before disappearing. It was replaced with two blue and red bars in the upper right corner of her vision.
What the hell?!!! Get out of my sight! You're blocking my view. Disappear! Turn off!
The red HP bar and blue MP bar disappeared.
Thank you! she said in her mind as she avoided the last lightning strike.
"Damn, that was Mass Lightning. How could he just cast it with such a short chant?" Serena wondered aloud while hiding behind a large boulder. Her whole body was charred and much of her school uniform was burned. There was not much left of her clothes to cover herself, but it was a life and death situation. Being covered or not, she had a greater worry than shame.
"HP and MP bar appear," she said as the red and blue bars appeared in her vision again.
"That two lightning strikes took out more than half of my life. And what's this? I have only 4000 HP maximum and 800 MP maximum? Am I even less than a level 1 hero unit?" Serena wanted to cry.
In AGO as Aelrea, Serena had a maximum of 296,000 HP and 250,000 MP. Even Spearmaster Garda, her spear specialist hero unit had 7,000 HP when he was level 1. By the time Garda reached level 12, he had 92,000 HP. In comparison, Sword Brave Lasrios started at 5000 HP and 700 MP. When Lasrios was sent to kill Theocracy of Lyrica's Uranus Who Sings In the Rear, he was level 25 and had 145,000 HP and 180,000 MP. When she thought of how any of her own hero units could kill her, she felt depressed.
But then, she realized something important. The thunder crow had not moved from his position. Usually, after an attack, most opponents would follow up with a distraction attack or even a killing blow. This would make her earlier absent-mindedness absolutely dangerous and could've taken her life.
Serena moved out of the thunder crow's field of vision. While his wings still flapped keeping him hovering above the ground, he made no move signifying that he noticed her movements. Serena subconsciously tilted her head, wondering what was happening. At first, she thought he was casting another spell, but that didn't feel right. Even if one was interrupted during casting, it wouldn't make them catatonic like this.
"Magic backlash!" Serena suddenly remembered a condition suffered in the early days of AGO. Before it was discovered that magic was extremely inefficient in one-on-one battles, everyone was racing to create their own top tier magic spells. Among the most common top tier spells back then were pentacle spells, spells that used five different elements and had the power to protect or destroy countries. They were very complicated spells that could very easily fizzle with just the tiniest mistake. Even after the caster spent 3-5 minutes getting everything right, just one operator wrong could cause the spell to fail. The only way it could be used in a one-on-one fight would be if the opponent allowed it to be cast.
Serena too had cast one of those pentacle spells before, but not in battle. She named it Great Hostility Barrier and she cast it on Hammerdale, the capital of Aelrea's mycran dominion. It greatly weakened enemy minions and restricted the powers of hostile gods to a minor extent. Serena recalled how she became stuck in that one position for the whole day and ended up filing a bug report. The developer's reply was a link to a forum thread where the developers already explained it was the result of using magic beyond the player character's abilities. Obviously, Serena didn't read the thread before she sent the bug report.
Armed with this knowledge, Serena cast a spell, "Spirits of fire. Gather fire at my finger. Release in a burst. Materialize, Flame Spout!"
The burst of flame shot out from her forefinger and charred the still airborne thunder crow. He fell to his death in the valley below. The spell consumed twenty of her total MP. Now she knew for sure that she was in AGO.
She looked around for Iina, feeling elation at knowing she could use this fantastic power called magic. When her eyes fell on Iina though, she froze. During the mass, lightning strikes one of lightning had struck a tree and the whole tree had fallen on Iina's body. Serena couldn't know. She was too busy avoiding the lightning strikes aimed at her.
Serena quickly ran to Iina's side. Using mycran strength, she tried to push the tree off her body, but the tree was too big and too heavy to push off. Serena tried to find something as leverage, but there was nothing suitable. With time running out and no other option, Serena had to use magic.
"Spirits of metal. Empower my body with strength. Materialize, Strength Boost!" Serena felt power overflowed in her body. With this new strength, she grabbed one of the branches of the tree and pulled it up before throwing the whole tree away.
It was one of the boost spells Serena as Aelrea was very familiar with. But as Aelrea, this boost allowed Aelrea to crush a castle. She couldn't hope for something similar as Serena.
"Iina! Iina, can you hear me?" Serena asked while feeling Iina's wounds.
Her worry increased as she felt the blood on Iina's chest. Her worry turned to fear when she felt Iina's cracked ribcage. When her eyes reached the gaping hole in her lower belly, her fear turned to despair. Even in the modern world, this was not the kind of wound that could be handled lightly. Even a skilled surgeon would not dare give assurance of a successful operation.
As Aelrea, Serena never had to cast healing magic. She was a blacksmith goddess, a crafter. She was never one who carried the ideals of holiness. If minions were lost, she'd just create temporary automatons to bolster her army while waiting for the population to increase. After all, they were just pixels, data that she couldn't care less about. Even when there was any need to instantly heal her hero units, she simply bought a potion off the premium shop. But at this moment, she didn't have a healing potion or the convenience of a debit card and premium shop.
"Spirits of Light. Gather around this body, nourish the growth, heal the wounds. Materialize, Healing Light!"
Serena cursed. Her previous spells worked, so she had hoped that this would work too. While she had never cast this spell before, she knew the incantation. It was the one healing spell that would definitely work in healing damage of this magnitude. She forgot that 'light element' was a divine element in AGO. As she was only a mycra, spirits of light would not obey her call.
Serena wracked her brain trying to find a spell of healing. She could create her own healing spell, but she didn't how healing spells work in the first place. So she could only rely on spells already created by the other players.
"Spirits of wood," she called, as a green orb appeared before her. "Umm, empower this body with vitality. Materialize, Healing... Boost?"
The spell exploded between Serena's hands. The impact hit Iina's body, causing her to cough out the blood that had pooled in her lungs. Serena could do nothing to make things right. She had learned first aid before, but there was nothing she could do to fix damage this bad.
All she could do was try to recall the few times she visited AGO's forums. Her mind kept scrolling through the memories of the posts in the forum until she finally found it. A healing spell weaved into a song, composed by a Theocracy of Lyrica member, Helari the Eternal Melody. The song was actually pretty long, consisting of several healing spells that not only cured the body but also cured curses, poison and warded the body against damage from both physical and magic as well as curses. Serena only chose the section containing the healing spell.
"Spirits of water. Listen to my voice. Whispers to the flowing river. To heal and recover. In waves and torrents. Materialize, Healing Water!" Serena shouted the final word before drowsiness overtook her and she fell unconscious on the ground.
Despite the caster no longer conscious to give the spell direction, a large droplet of water formed above Iina's body, floating in the air. It fell on Iina's body, soaking Iina's body, covered in blood with the healing water that washed away the blood. With every pulse of water, more of her wounds closed. Her bones mended itself, the large hole in her stomach shrunk until it finally disappeared as if there was nothing there in the first place. However, that was only on the surface, the internal wounds were not completely healed.
It was because Serena did not have enough magic power for this spell. This spell was not meant for a mortal, like Serena. It was meant to be cast by a god, like Aelrea. Or at least a hero unit, like Lasrios. For someone with 800 MP like Serena, this spell was too much for her body. In AGO, losing all your HP meant death, and losing all of your MP meant passing out. Either way, you would have lost the battle.
Iina woke up first. By the time she woke up, night had already fallen. She recalled Serena's battle, up until the tree fell on top of her. She thought she should've been dead. She certainly felt the weight of the tree trunk and the pain of the branch punching through her guts, yet, there was not even a wound. She tried to get up too quickly, resulting in her coughing up blood. It was obvious she was still bleeding internally.
Iina fell back on the ground. She was still coughing blood, but it was not as bad as when she tried to get up. As she fell, her left hand touched something. She slowly turned her head to her left and saw Serena lying unconscious beside her. She didn't know how, but she could tell that she owed Serena her life.
"Serena..." Iina said slowly, trying not to exert herself. There was no response.
"Serena..." she repeated, still without a response.
With her hands, she dragged and pushed her body so that she could touch Serena's face.
"Serena..." she slapped Serena's face lightly, trying to wake her up. Serena made no move.
"Don't die on me, Serena. Your talent, don't let it end here," Iina said while slapping Serena's face a little harder.
Iina knew Serena was still alive from her warmth and breathing. But she thought they did not have the leisure of resting here. If two thunder crows could appear, two more could appear at any time. If any more thunder crows appeared here now, they'd be as good as dead.
Realizing that simply slapping Serena's face didn't work and she was far too injured do anything more vigorous, she tried to wake Serena up by supplying Serena with magic power. The moment her magic power reached Serena's heart, it was rejected so strongly that the blast threw both of them apart.
Iina coughed blood again as she fell on her front. She knew what had just happened. It was magic withdrawal. She herself had experienced it before when she was much younger. Back then, Grandpa Luus simply put her in bed so that she could recover. It took her a week to wake up. They didn't have that luxury here.
When magic withdrawal happened, the person's heart, the core that contained a person's magic formed a protective barrier that nullified all magic. It was so that nothing could disturb the recovery of that person. In a way, this made the person who experienced magic withdrawal immune to certain types of magic. Iina's attempt just now was one such magic. It identified Iina's magic as foreign substance and rejected it.
Iina didn't know, but this more or less reflected the gameplay of AGO. While characters that ran out of HP received the status of 'dead' and would need to be revived through faith, characters that ran out of MP received the status of 'knocked out' and would need to rest for a time depending on how bad their magic withdrawal was. Knocked out characters did not need to be revived but would be unusable until the negative mana value or negative MP recovered enough to reach at least 1. Later patches removed the possibility of extreme negative MP and simply applied a set amount of 'rest days' depending on the type of spell used that caused the condition and setting the limit to negative 100 MP.
Iina dragged herself to Serena's prone body with her arms. Now that she knew what happened, she knew what to do. She heard of this method from a peddler during one of her trade visits to the central cities. If Serena's locked heart could not accept foreign magic, she would have to trick it into thinking it was Serena's own magic.
And so she pressed her lips against Serena's and gave her a deep kiss.