At 12pm you walked into the cafe where you and Mirio had decided to meet, and he smiled brightly at you from the booth seat he had chosen.
He slid out and stood up as you walked over and then gave you a hug.
“It’s good to see you again,” he said with adoring look on his face.
“Same,” you replied bashfully, “it’s been a while since we caught up.”
“Yes! Well, the exams are behind me now so all that’s left is to do this mission together.”
“Oh! Yes, the mission,” you said, pretending like you had forgotten.
“You don’t have to worry about it, Y/N, I’ll be right there with you,” Mirio said, taking your lack of words as hesitation about the upcoming trip.
“Oh… thanks,” you replied, trying not to give yourself away with a grin, “I can’t wait to show him what I’ve learned.”
You both talked idly about different things and then you slowly turned the conversation back to RFO, disguising your questions behind a cloak of curiosity.
“So… what was your experience in Rapid Fate when you were just starting out?” you asked, swishing your straw around in your drink to try and make it look like you weren’t 300% invested and that it was just a random question.
“Ah,” he chuckled scratching the back of his head, “it was a little rough.”
“Really?” you asked, “why was it rough?”
“Well, it took me a while to figure out which attacks to use on the different field monsters,” he said, “twice, I had to start over.”
“Start over? As in, you died in game and started from scratch again?” you asked.
“Yeah,” he chuckled, “I stepped on a rat on level one and it bit my leg and I died, and then the second time I got stung by the wasp leading from level one to level two.”
“Oh no,” you giggled, “well, I don’t know how strong they are since I’ve only ever been with you on higher levels but the same thing would probably happen to me.”
That was a lie.
A straight out lie.
But it kinda made you feel better that although you were still very weak compared to Mirio, you at least hadn’t died yet.
“Things got a lot easier though once I became a mage. I ended up with a lot of skills to use and sometimes, when I’m doing student hero work in real life, I accidentally call out the moves from in game.”
You chuckled. You understood exactly what he was meaning because you too had felt that fine line between game and reality. Most nights now were spent dreaming about events that had happened in game.
“You’ll have to show me what the lower levels are like,” you said with a smile.
“Yes, of course! After this mission is finished I’ll take you everywhere I know of,” he said with a grin.
Later that night you were back in game with Hansu on level 4.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen when we get to level 5. I defeated the boss so is there going to be another one there in its place? Will Ægir suddenly be summoned from my inventory? I hope not. Because that’s going to give away the fact that I’ve been practicing in game still…”
“You’re unusually quiet?” Hansu commented from beside you as you both walked the trail up to level 5.
“Uh… just worried about the boss on this level. I’ve heard it’s strong.”
“What is it?” Hansu asked.
“A water horse.”
“Mmmmm,” he hummed, “if it’s too much, we can head back to level 4 for you to work a little more?”
“No. I want to move forward. You can clearly see that I can defeat the snakes on level 4 easily,” you replied with determination.
Hansu remained quiet and ahead you saw the sign greeting you to level 5.
You slowed, being a little more cautious with your movements as you approached the stream ahead. It was a small trickle now, unlike the full swirling stream you had encountered when you first came to the level, and you stepped closer, then stepped across the stream and into level 5.
“Where’s the boss?” Hansu asked.
“I… I don’t know? Maybe further in a little?” you replied. There was genuine confusion in your voice as you didn’t know what to expect either, so Hansu was inclined to believe that you actually didn’t know.
The path leading into level 5 was well worn but a little rocky and it didn’t help that it was lined, either side, by moss and fern, making the overall feel of the level a little cold and damp.
The path started in dense bush and then opened out on one side, dropping quite steeply into a deep valley- of which the contents were concealed with heavy fog, while a straight rocky mountain flanked the other side of the trail.
“Is it getting colder?” you asked Hansu, who, even though he was beside you, was a little hard to see in the mist that was swirling around as you both descended into the misty valley below.
You and Hansu picked your way down along the slightly damp track, the mist clearing a little the lower you got, and eventually you made it safely down onto the flats of the level.
“Oh,” you whispered, blinking as the mist cleared and you saw heaps of small lakes and streams with majestic waterfalls filling them from all sides, “this is a really beautiful level,” you breathed, stopping for a second to take it all in.
As you stood there, looking out from the path, something flitted by in the corner of your eye and you looked over to see what it was… but whatever it was- that had originally caught your eye, wasn’t there anymore.
You looked at Hansu. But because he was still using Migata’s gear it wasn’t registering him and his swirling black mass of a face told you nothing.
Still keen to see more of the level, you kept on moving forward. But every few minutes you thought you saw something move in your peripheries and would look, but again, when you tried to look at it directly – nothing was there.
“What is it?” Hansu asked when he saw you swinging your head to look at something every few minutes.
“I don’t know, but I swear I can see something from the corner of my eye but then when I look towards where I saw something… nothing is there.”
“Are they the field monsters of this level?” he queried.
“I’m not sure?” you replied, “they aren’t attacking us?”