The lid of a capsule opened up and white cold smoke escaped. A naked tall figure, well built and blond haired slowly stood up. His blue eyes shone with a resolute light.
A maid of short stature opened the door and looked at the barely lit room.
"Lights On," the man whispered.
The light bulbs shone a bright green and illuminated the room.
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Milia snuck into the room, her silver bangs hiding her face. She felt shy about looking at the man's half-naked body.
"Master Leon, your clothes have been readied." She then put Leon's clothes on a sofa facing the TV. "I'll go and prepare lunch for you."
"No need," Leon said as he put on his pants. "I'll be visiting Ryan in a short while. Just leave my clothes here and call Albert."
"Understood, Master Leon."
Looking at Milia's face for a little too long, Leon smiled.
"You still don't have the Raveons? If you want, we could buy-"
"Master Leon! You know- Ma'am will..-"
In the midst of wearing his shirt, Leon looked at Milia's distressed attitude and flailing arms in surprise.
"Haha, I'm sorry, Milia. I know that you also have it hard with mom. In exchange for all the trouble, I'll treat you to dinner some other time."
"No, Master Leon, that's.."
"Haha, don't worry. It's on me."
Leon pated Milia's head and walked out of the room, his eyes deep in thought.
"Master Leon? Is something the matter?"
Leon paused for a second to look at Milia before smiling, "No, no problem at all."
Leon then walked through the corridor while Milia just stood dazed, looking at his back.
"Oh, no. I should call Albert immediately."
While Milia was contacting Albert, Leon thought back to everything that happened this day.
Leon and Ryan stayed up all night preparing for Ashes of Gods' beta release. There weren't much information online, and the few leaks that circulated the internet they already knew. However, there was still one way to prepare for the release: Playing Demon Heart.
For months, Leon and Ryan would meet up and play Demon Heart all day. Throughout this time, they got used to the various strategies pertaining to MMOs specifically. Before, they played either single player or fighting games. Thus, their understanding of teamwork was very lackluster.
For the full duration of their training, they watched all sorts of guides on the internet. Every time a top guild would release its walkthrough of nightmare tier dungeons, they would watch it repeatedly and analyze it. This way, they were able to slowly build up their theoretical understanding of the game. In practice, their implementation would be best described as wacky.
The knowledge that works at the highest level of play doesn't necessarily translate to anything useful for normal casual players. At first, Leon and Ryan didn't even know the optimal spell rotations for their respective classes. So, focusing on high-level strategies did them more harm than good. But as time went on, their hard work paid off. By the time Ashes of Gods was about to be released, both Leon and Ryan were no longer a burden to their raiding teams, but a force to be reckoned with.
Finally, on June 26th, Leon and Ryan kept grinding with their party until 3 am before calling it a night. Leon woke up later that day in Ryan's room at 9 o'clock. After having breakfast, they were supposed to start playing Ashes of Gods at the same time.
However, Ryan had a headache that morning. It came out of nowhere, and Ryan's immune system was heavily boosted by nanobots. Needless to say, Leon was worried. In this day and age, where illness barely exists, pain became a rarity.
Out of concern for his friend, Leon asked him to just rest for the day and they would play tomorrow. He then went back to his house, leaving Ryan on his bed. However, barely three hours after, he received a call from Ryan saying that he was alright. They hopped on their Dreamscape and launched Ashes of Gods. Even though they missed the release by a few hours, they were still hyped about being one of the first to test out the game.
The moment Leon entered, he was awestruck. The blade of grass tickling his feet, the cold spring breeze and the bright sun shining from a distance. Leon couldn't believe what he saw. He never thought that such a technology was possible, but here it was. Emulating everything the real world had to offer, and even more.
A warm zephyr tickled his legs before transforming into a violent gale that catapulted him upwards.
An eagle's cry. When Leon turned, his heart thumped. A drift of griffins covered the blue sky, and their piercing cries almost deafened him. There he stood, a hundred feet above the ground, surrounded by the most magical of creatures. But, what a terrible omen it was when a claw from below the plateau appeared.
A brick red dragon, 30 meters long, soared into the sky. Looking at the drift of griffins, it roared, anger clear in its voice. It opened its mouth, and with contempt in its eyes, it gathered fire mana from all over the mountain range. The magical particles gathered into a ball of fire that Leon could feel the heat of even a hundred meters away. That hot wind for some reason turned into a warm breeze. The gentle zephyr as with last time became more violent and grew into a strong gale. The gust of wind blew him to the side, away from the danger.
The intro then ended with corpses of the Griffins turned into flame and writing Ashes of Gods in the sky. For the rest of the character creation phase, Leon couldn't help but think back to the intro scene and how cool it was. Few quick changes to his haircut, red as his hair color, the character creation went like a breeze.
Then came the part of choosing the city. Leon already planned this part well with Ryan. Since there wasn't any information about the map online, they decided that once they reached this part of the character creation process, they would log out and talk with each other. And so they did. After taking a mental note of most of the capitals in the map, Leon logged off and called Ryan. After a bit of back and forth, they finally decided on where to start: Stal Capital City.
Leon logged back into the game, chose his birth city and decided on his name: Leo. He then teleported from the character creation place into the tutorial dojo. The instructor that taught him was a tall man with a clean face and sharp eyes. He quickly went through the three moves he was supposed to show Leo and then summoned a dummy for the latter to train on.
Leo failed multiple times. No matter how hard he thought about it, the skills just will just activate for a second before dying out a second later. He was deep in thought when from the corner of his eyes, he looked at one of the shadowy figures that stood all around him. That person was already able to activate its skill, as was shown from the trail of energy left by his sword whenever it swung. The shadowy figure was able to do it multiple time consecutively while he was still struggling to activate it once. For a moment, Leo was full of awe and respect for the unknown figure. He then tried one more time, and finally, he was successful in activating Empowered Slash. He was then able to activate the two last spells of the warrior class without many hurdles afterward.
When the shadowy figure went out of the dojo, Leo quickly followed it. However, the moment he went out of the door, someone tugged at his back. He turned around only to see a face he knew all too well.
The same round eyes, the same dark pupils, the same short black hair.
"Ryan, you really didn't change anything."
"Hehe," Ryan scratched his head. "I was too excited to play, so I just left everything as default."
Ryan then took a more dignified pose and coughed in his hand.
"Also, my name is not Ryan in game. I'm DepressedRyan since I'm permanently depressed."
"Hahaha, you? Depressed? What kind of joke is that?"
"Haha! But forget about me. Where were you going? I saw you tunnel visioning on something."
"Ah, I think I just saw a pro," answered Leo, his face turning serious.
Leo looked sideways, remembering his encounter with the shadowy figure. "Yeah, I know. How can there be a pro this early in the game? But believe me, his movements were just so clean, and he was able to activate those skills so much earlier than everyone else." Leo looked at DepressedRyan in the eyes this time. "Which reminds me, how many tries did it take you to get them down?"
"Oh, yeah, those were pretty weird. It took me like two to three tries to fully activate them, other than Dash which I did instantly."
"Yeah, it also took me very long. Wait-" Realisation dawned on Leo for a second as he finally registered DepressedRyan's answer. "Two to three times?!"
"Hmm? Yeah...?" DepressedRyan tilted his head.
"Are you for real?! It took me like a dozen tries or so!"
Remembering this discussion, Leon chuckled. Even this early on in the game, Ryan showed his massive potential. We really are two very different beings, Ryan. Leon was out of his reverie by the time he reached the main entrance of the mansion he lived in. All around him, decorations and paintings of his ancestors covered the walls.
"Where are you going, young man?"
Hearing the familiar, high pitched feminine voice, Leon grumbled and turned around.
"Mom, I'm going to Ryan's house."
"I haven't seen you since yesterday morning. Were you playing games for all that time?!" Leon's mom's voice turned into an even higher pitch at the end, showcasing her erupting anger.
However, Leon didn't let her words affect his emotional state. He just looked at her calmly, even apathetically, but said nothing.
Leon's mom stomped her right foot in anger, looked up to the ceiling and raised her voice even higher.
"Ah! I just wish you were like your brother. Look at him! He is already a senior executive at Omega9. He is selling those games that you like so much to you and people like you. While you stay here wasting time, he is out there making money!"
At the mention of his brother, Leon bit his lips and looked down. He then looked up at his mother, his eyes resolute.
"My brother has nothing do with anything I do. He is his own person. Mom, I'm going to Ryan's house now. Take care of yourself."
Leon's mom didn't respond, and he didn't expect a response either. Once she enters her naggy state, there is no reasoning with her. Understanding that Leon just walked off the main entrance and closed the door behind him. Standing next to the entrance of the garden, an old man welcomed him with a bow.
"Albert, we're going to Ryan's house."
"As you wish, young master," the thin old man replied. He was dressed in a black butler suit. His hair was grey and his face was gentle. Whenever Leon would look at him, his worries would dissipate. Albert just had that kind of healing aura around him.
"Oh, you're not putting your Raveons on today, Albert?" Leon asked in surprise.
"Ah, I just took them off for a moment, young master. They're in the car. Sometimes, they make my eyes itchy so I have to take them off," Albert answered with a smile.
"I understand. Your health first, Albert."
The two then made their way to the mansion's parking lot where a stylized sports car stood. Violet, purple and sky blue were the main ingredients of this masterpiece. An aerodynamic design, a slick looking front to back, and doors that open vertically. This car was a feast for the eyes; a gift from his late father.
Albert bowed in front of Leon, waiting for him to enter. Leon swiftly complied. Albert entered right after and with that, they took off.
"Albert, I also left my Raveons in the car last time. Do you have them?"
"Yes, young master."
With a dull "clitch" went out of the back of the front seat. Glasses that shone with a green neon light stood on top of it. Leo picked them up and wore them, but the view in front of him didn't change.
Leon moved next to the window and watched the scenery outside. They quickly entered the city and with it, a futuristic outlandish view greeted them. Tall skyscrapers, robots everywhere, and cars entering underground tunnels like wormholes. However, most surprising of all were the people walking around in the streets. More precisely, what was surrounding them.
Stylized clouds raining torrents, faces with hearts instead of eyes, and a myriad of different emoji-like caricature stood next to each and every person. Shops had mermaids flying from their doors to the open sky, showcasing their clothing fashion; anime characters eating a thousand different food in front of restaurants and a thousand other fantasy-like view filled the city.
Leon looked at all of this with cold eyes. He was already used to it. This culture of extreme extravagance. However, maybe out of curiosity, he asked Albert.
"Hey, Albert. What do you think of Augmented Reality, and the Raveons that boosted it? It must feel weird, living in this world where everyone shares everything to everyone."
"Haha, young master. While I did live in a world where none of this new stuff existed, it doesn't mean that I can't accept it. But, what do you think young master?"
"I think it's fake," Leon replied bluntly.
"Haha, young master." Albert smiled gently. "Sometimes, people like to have those lies surround them. It makes them feel more secure."
The rest of the journey was uneventful. Leon didn't speak much, he just looked at the window lost in his thoughts, while Albert kept silently driving.