9. Making Friends

    “*Ahem* Let me properly introduce myself. I’m Sunflower, and my hobby is sewing things.” After wiping her tears, Sunflower stood up and spoke with a confident tone. 

    “I’m Kukis, alchemist extraordinaire! Or rather, I will be… Either way, as fellow victims of Q we should get along swimmingly!”

    “Oh come on! I didn’t even do anything okay?” Q felt exasperated and put a hand on her head. Turning to Sunflower she asked, “Why did you cry anyway?” 

    “I… well… that is…” Sunflower appeared hesitant at first but eventually decided to reveal her reason. “I don’t have a lot of friends in real life… or any, really, so I just did what my mother told me to. ‘Look cute, friendly, and sociable, and then people will come flocking to you. As long as you wear the proper mask then any conversation is a cinch, and you can be ‘friends’ with anyone’…” At this point she got a distant look on her face, “I’m not, I don’t think that, that I’m very good at it. In real life people would always look at me with fake expressions and only pretended to be friends, but bad mouthed me when I wasn’t around. When Myriad Myths came out I thought that I could finally make real friends but-” Her words were cut short as she was glomped by Kukis.

    “Q, we’re adopting her.” Kukis gave Q a look as if to say she wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. 

    “Um, I have a family already-” Sunflower’s voice was muffled as she struggled to move.

    “Shhh. While you’re here, we’ll take care of you.” Kukis shut down any protests with a stronger hug. “Isn’t that right Q?”

    “I guess? If you want her to tag along then I don’t see why not.” Q’s expression shifted to an apprehensive one as she crossed her arms over her chest.

    “You guess? More like you totally need to take responsibility for bringing this girl to tears. Besides, you don’t feel that ‘feeling’ do you?”

    “Now that you mention it, no, I didn’t feel ‘it’ when looking at her… ah jeez. I get it okay!” Shaking her head, Q walked over to Sunflower. “Well Sunflower, seeing as Kukis has already claimed you as her own it’s only fair that I extend a welcoming hand too. Oh, and don’t worry about not being able to make any friends, because now you’re friends with me!”

    “Is that really a good thing?” Kukis muttered under her breath.

    “Shush you.”

    “I… um… okay!” Sunflower had the brightest, most genuine smile on her face yet. “Thank you for being my friend! Which reminds me, I said some very mean things back then… I’m sorry about that.”

    “Psh, that was nothing.” Q waved her hand a few times in the air. “I’ve had way worse thrown at me before,” She began to shift her wight from side to side as she continued, “but rather than dwelling on that, how about we get out of this place? I’m itching to get some monster-hunting action going!”

    “Alright, it’s about high time we get some level-grinding done. To the bounty board!” Kukis set off to the opposite side of the room with Q in tow.

    “Um, before that…” Sunflower began to fidget around, “can you put me down first?”

*****

    About half an hour later the three girls found a suitable request on the bounty board and set off to the outskirts of town. There were no walls or barriers they had to get through, though there were some guards in shiny armor who were patrolling around the houses that gave them nods as they passed through. Stepping outside the town, they saw a large open field with yellow-green grass that reached up to their knees in height. In front of them was a wide and well-trodden dirt path which split into multiple directions. Looking a bit further there were various astralites wandering around this area who were either on their knees searching for something or fighting small furry beasts that occasionally entered the area. 

    “Mmm! Feel that afternoon breeze!” Q stretched up as high as she could and sniffed the air. “Smells like grass, and trees, and blood, and… sweat? Wow those astralites are really going at it.” 

    “Good thing we chose a gathering quest,” Kukis smiled wryly, “there’s no way we’re getting in on that action. Ahh, first days are always chaotic.” With a nostalgic sigh she made a few gestures in the air and then continued. “According to Mod and Vam it’s way worse in Mizar, since combat-focused players are flocking there for good weapons.”

    “Yup, Foria is pretty good when you think about it in that context. I guess it wasn’t such a bad decision to be here after all…” She brought out her staff and slung it over her shoulders, then addressed Sunflower. “By the way, I never asked you, but can you fight Sunflower?”

    “Yes! I actually take martial arts classes for self-defense. I’m plenty strong!” Posing her arms in the air, Sunflower attempted to flex but only succeeded in puffing up her cheeks and looking more adorable. 

    “Sweet. Let’s get a move on.” Q began walking on the dirt path.

    “Ooh, picked up the good old staff I see.” Kukis brought out a pair of small warhammers with straps attached to the bottom of the shaft, and flipped them around in her hands. “This is what my tutorial stuck me with. Honestly, I can’t believe this game sometimes. Something smaller and delicate would suit me way more, like a rapier or something.”

    “I dunno Cookie, it probably suits you more than you might think.”

    “Huh!? Are you trying to imply that I’m some sort of violent woman?”

    “Pretty much yeah, It’s just been hidden underneath that weak exterior in real life.”

    Wordlessly, Kukis swung one of her hammers towards Q who easily caught it with the tip of her staff. “Uh-oh, might want to be a bit careful while swinging those around.” Q smirked, causing Kukis to lose her composure and continue swinging towards her.

    “Mgrgrgr! Wipe that stupid smirk off your face!” 

    “Why don’t you try and wipe it off yourself? That is… if you can.”

    “That’s it! I challenge you to a duel!” Kukis while fuming, sent out a duel request.

    “Sure.” The moment Q accepted, the atmosphere changed slightly. Both Q and Kukis’ stars began shining and a faint layer of light covered their bodies. It was at this point that some text appeared in the sky, reading:

    [Duel Challenge – Kukis, Covetous Collector vs. Q, The Brightest Light]

    “How the heck did you get that as your myth!?” Q asked with round eyes.

    “That’s what I want to know! I can’t believe yours sounds so cool!” 

    With that, Kukis began to attack Q in earnest. She used the straps on the hammers to her advantage by swinging them and building up momentum before sending them right at Q. Despite her seemingly reckless behavior each of her attacks were still properly aimed towards Q’s head or chest, forcing Q to focus on defending those parts. At this point Kukis suddenly crouched down and whispered, “[Low Sweep].” Her body automatically slid forward and she swung her leg forward with the intention of catching Q off guard.

    Unfortunately for her Q had simply planted the staff into the ground and used it to vault over her attack, and then followed up with a hard smack to her head. “My my, [Strong Arm], [Low Sweep]? Seems awfully physical for an intellectual such as yourself.”

    “You want something intelligent? How about this?!” Kukis threw one of her hammers at Q who simply side-stepped to avoid it.

    “Really Kukis?” Another smirk was starting to form on Q’s face, but it was quickly replaced by a serious look as she saw Kukis extend her hand and it emitted a red glow. At this point Q was made aware of a whooshing sound behind her, and she threw herself to the ground just in time to avoid the hammer that Kukis threw earlier. She watched as it sailed over her head and landed back into Kukis’ hand. “Holy crap that’s awesome!”

    “Tsk, I thought that one would get you at least.” Kukis began spinning both hammers in her hands again, one glowing blue and the other glowing red. “How about two of them instead?”

    Kukis then alternated between throwing her hammers and recalling them to her, seemingly speeding up a little each time she did. Q was pushed back and was unable to simply knock the hammers out of the way as they would return to Kukis’ hands every time she did. While she was still able to handle the attack there was no telling how much faster Kukis would get, so Q decided to break out of this situation by throwing a weapon of her own.

    Q smacked down one of the hammers heading towards her, and then brought the staff back around to hit the hammer coming in from behind. Both of them quickly flew back towards Kukis, but Q was quicker as she smoothly transitioned to the stance of a javelin thrower and threw her staff as hard as she could. Just as Kukis caught her hammers she was caught right in the pit of her stomach by Q’s staff and had the air knocked out of her lungs. Kukis barely had enough time to process what happened when Q ran up with a sprint and made a flying drop kick, making the staff go even deeper, almost causing her to faint from the pain. 

    “Gaahk… *cough cough* I give, I give!” Kukis fell to her knees and clutched her stomach. The faint layer of light which covered her shattered, and the words in the sky changed to: [Winner – Q].

    “Yeesh, sorry about that Cookie.” Q bent down and lent her a hand. “You alright?”

    “Yeah… yeah I’m fine. I think I forgot about the fact that you can feel actual pain in this game. It’s a good thing it doesn’t last long though.” After a few seconds of catching her breath, she took Q’s hand and got up. “You’re still as ridiculous as always Q. You did what, three hits? And I’m already in the red.”

    “Heh, yeah. Any further and I would’ve become a PK. Or maybe not. It seems like when the light shatters the duel is considered over.” Q chuckled. “What’d you use by the way? It was super cool!”

    “That was a combination of [Windup] and my myth, Covetous Collector, which lets me retrieve anything I own, amongst other effects. Basically [Windup] increases the power of any physical action as long as you keep repeating it, and my myth is what I used to grab the hammers every time I threw them. It’s a pretty good combo with minimal mana expenditure, which by the way-”

    “What are you two doing!?” The two’s friendly chat was interrupted by a flustered Sunflower who held out a hand over Kukis’ stomach. A soft light was emitted from her hand and entered Kukis’ body, who began to recover at a visible rate. “You’re friends! Why did you start fighting so suddenly?”

    Q and Kukis exchanged glances, then suddenly burst out laughing. “Yeah, we are friends aren’t we?” Kukis doubled over from the laughter and then lightly punched Q on her arm. “You’re such an asshole.”

    “Right back at you!” Q returned a punch of her own and the two continued to laugh.

    “Aw, I don’t get it!” Sunflower was completely distressed. “Is being friends always this confusing?”

    “Heh, it’s a lot more clear cut than you think Sunflower.” Q sat back on her haunches and propped her head on her hand. “It doesn’t matter how much flaws they have, or how annoying they get, because as long as you like them, they’re a friend.”

    “That’s… all it is?”

    “That’s all it is.” Q nodded sagely. “Say Sunflower, how old are you anyway? This is basic stuff when it comes to relationships.”

    “Me? I’m twelve.”

    ““Twelve!?”” Q and Kukis did a double take as they looked over the now bashful girl.

    “Hold on, no, wait… twelve is the minimum age, I remember that much, and there’s no limits on making your avatar but… wow. Just wow.” Q looked at Sunflower in amazement. “You’re super mature for being so young. I thought for sure you were like, sixteen or something.”

    “Q, we have a new quest. We must protect this precious child.” Kukis returned to glomping Sunflower in an affectionate hug. 





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