35 Reaching the Top
Pio and Magnus' screams echoed, reaching where Tank and Luna were walking. They both stood still, wondering if it was just a programmed sound effect or a genuine scream.
"It sure is noisy out there," Tank commented.
"Yeah," Luna replied.
He couldn't help but notice the sullen expression on Luna's face. "What's wrong, Luna? You look down."
"Tank, I want to ask you something."
She paused hesitantly before asking, "Do you ever miss your life back in the real world?"
He was amused by her question. "Sometimes, but my old life doesn't beat the exciting life I have here. I'm hooked to this world."
"Have you ever thought about going back?"
He placed a hand on his chin. "I admit that I do have some regrets. There are things I left unfixed, but now might not be the right time for it yet," he replied. "Are you thinking about your old life in the real world?"
"Yeah. Kind of."
"Do you ever think about the people you left behind?"
"Sometimes I do."
Maybe I should keep my distance from him. After all, he already has a wife. I wouldn't want to get in the way of their relationship, Luna thought.
"Cheer up. Focus on the present. This is where you are now." He smiled.
Luna managed a smile back.
Tank pushed her down just in time before a dark creature swooped down to touch them. The creature after them was a 'soul reaper', a flying skeleton with a black cloak and a long scythe. It circled above them like an eagle locking on to its prey.
"Stay back. These things are nasty." Tank frowned as he held up his shield.
"You fought these before?" Luna asked as she used her shield to deflect attacks.
"Yeah. Lyngvi and I were at haunted grounds before. There were a lot of them. They paralyze you so many times that you're barely able to fight back. Keep your shield up. Whatever you do, keep away from their scythe and fingers."
Luna nodded. "Got it."
Tank drew his sword and defeated the soul reaper with a single strike. "They hit hard with magic attacks, but their health bar is tiny. Best defeat them as fast as possible before..." His voice trailed away.
"Shit. Run." He grabbed her wrist and pulled her as he ran up the mountain path.
After a few seconds, four soul reapers showed up behind them.
Tank looked back to check if they were still being chased. "It will be disadvantageous for us to fight four at once. We either have to lose them or split them up."
"How do we do that?" Luna asked.
"I don't know."
They continued running until they saw a small dilapidated shack that seemed to be a good shelter from the flying nightmares. Tank didn't give a second thought and pulled Luna inside with him. He shut the door tight and peered through the small window.
Tank sighed. "Wish we had long range. The window is great for sniping."
"What if you use your ultimate attack?" Luna suggested.
"Too risky. We might attract more of them. Plus, we might need the mana for healing later on."
"So we wait for them to leave?"
"Yes. If there are at least two of them left, we can defeat them."
Tank and Luna sat on the shack's floor waiting for the soul reapers to leave. They checked every few minutes, but the creatures showed no signs of giving up.
"Heh. I never would have imagined being in a situation like this back when I was just an office worker in the real world," said Tank in an amused tone. "Frisk and I talked about being inside a videogame once during lunch break. I never thought it would really happen."
"You and Frisk were co-workers?" Luna was surprised.
"Yeah. We were in the same department. He was the one who first heard of Aries, which got featured in that gaming magazine he subscribed to. When I first came to Aries, it was just Frisk and I partying and completing quests. Vi later joined us."
"So Frisk used to be in the Knights Alliance?"
"Nah. He was never a founding member. He wanted to become strong and attract a lot of women, so he joined one of the top guilds, Jupiter. Vi and I established the Knights Alliance sometime after meeting a bunch of guildless knights and crusaders. We were meeting up to raid dungeons so often that we decided to just form a guild."
Tank was smiling as he fondly remembered their adventures and told Luna about them. Luna was satisfied just to see him happy.
After some time passed, Tank peeked through the window once more. The soul reapers were still there. "We can't stay locked up here forever. Luna, how far are we from the target location?"
Luna checked the map on her menu tablet. "Looks like we're near the top."
"I'm going to go out first and distract them. You run ahead towards the cave and quickly grab a token. The exit should be there too. I'll catch up."
"Will you be ok?" Luna was a bit worried, considering how terrible Tank described soul reapers to be.
"I got plenty of health and high magical defense. I'll survive for a while. You just run all the way to the top, got it?"
Luna nodded. "Got it."
Tank opened the door and ran out. The soul reapers were quick to chase him. As soon as they were at a safe distance, Luna ran outside and hurried to the top of the mountain. One of the soul reapers noticed her and chased her instead of Tank.
Luna looked back and cursed when she saw the flying creature after her. She used her shield to protect herself. When Luna was getting closer to the cave where the tokens were, the soul reaper landed a direct hit and paralyzed her. She fell face down on the ground. Unable to move, she was left vulnerable to the creature's strong magic attacks. She watched as her health was draining quickly.
A part of her wanted to just give up and allow herself to respawn, but she didn't want to disappoint Tank. After all, he did risk his life to allow her to escape.
In the split second after the initial paralysis wore off, she rolled away from the next hit and quickly drank a health potion. She decided to just fight the soul reaper.
"Come at me!" She unsheathed her sword.
The soul reaper flew around her, attempting a hit each time it went near. It gradually picked up speed every time it missed. Luna was starting to get anxious.
Concentrate... Concentrate... She repeated the word in her head as she deflected attacks with her shield.
Luna suddenly recalled something Astrid mentioned a long time ago: "Aries may seem so realistic, but it was still programmed by a human. No matter how random the NPCs and monsters' movements are, they are all behaving according to an algorithm written by the developer. Many things in this world have a pattern."
As she tried to land a hit on the evasive soul reaper, she analyzed its movements. Whenever she deflected its attacks at least thrice, it would start to fly around her and slowly pick up speed while attempting more hits. Hitting back appeared to break the action and make it fly away to launch mid range magic attacks. She tested it again to confirm her observations.
There's no way I can hit it with its pattern like that. Luna thought. I need it to get close enough for me to attack while it's at its initial movement speed.
Luna turned around and ran up the path again. The soul reaper drew near, ready to paralyze her once more. Just before it managed to inflict her with the status effect, she turned around and killed it with one hit. She drew a sigh of relief and hurried to the cave. It appeared to be a pathway leading to another area, so she walked forward.
Once out, she found herself in the ruins of a small stone temple. Each corner had a griffon sculpture, some entirely intact and others partly damaged. In the middle of the ruins was a glowing chest containing a token in the form of a wooden heart. Once she picked it up, another one took its place. She closed the chest and waited for Tank to catch up. It wasn't long before he arrived.
"Nasty little monsters. One chased you. Glad you survived." He stopped to catch his breath.
"I managed to take it down," she said proudly.
"Good job." He smiled and sat on the ground. "Let's take a rest before teleporting back."
"The view here is amazing!" Luna stood at the edge of the ruins.
When Tank looked up, he saw a clear sky full of stars and an aurora right above them. "Sure is," he agreed. He wasn't one who took notice of breathtaking views and nature's beautiful displays, but he did once in a while when there was someone who'd remind him. It had been a long time since someone did.