"They're some awesome mobs. The caves are their main dungeon, three floors, levels 10 to about 25. Too early for us. But around the caves, there're tons of petty gnolls there, like workers, gatherers and messengers. Those guys are begging to be killed. They might drop a bracelet which you can sell to other players or to the Caravan Guards' Master. Each bracelet gives you the same experience as you get if you kill a gnoll. Donators—I mean those who invest real cash into the game—buy them like hot cakes. They'd rather spend an hour screaming their heads off to buy bracelets by the dozen, and then bingo! they're already level 10 or even 20, no need to waste rabbits. Talking about rabbits. You'd better check yours before it stinks."

All the rabbit dropped was two strips of rabbit meat. I could sell it to a shopkeeper or start to level the cooking skill. I was curious how much I could make by the end of the first day.

The location chat was busy:

I'll pay I gold for Red Bear ID. PM me.

WTS Blue Gladiolus or trade for top Druid gear.

Lvl 8 Mage LFG

WTB gnoll bracelets. Gray 20 copper, black 50 copper, red 2 silver. Preferably in bulk.

WTS +350 HP buff, duration 3 hr. Price: 1 gold. I'll be sitting by the East Gate.

Janis is PK! He's by the creek, go kill him!

You PK! You killed me first!

Lynch guffawed. "Kidz!"

"Yeah. Useless truants. It doesn't look as if we can find anyone. Let's just go and then decide."

"Okay. Let's go."

Seven minutes of brisk walking along the forest edge brought us to a low hill range. The foothills were teeming with players—groups and solos—busy pulling monsters and attempting to take them apart.

As we watched, a low-level warrior pulled a train of three gnolls and a level 8 gnoll overseer. In less than a minute, the whole party was lying dead having only nailed two of the lower gnolls. Greedy-eyed, We watched the monsters leave. The overseer, badly crippled as he was, was too tough for us.

"Lynch? You don't happen to have any distance weapon, do you? To pull a mob or two?

"I don't," he tut-tutted. "In theory, I can use slings and crossbows. Only I haven't saved enough yet to get myself any. I bought a dozen bandages and that was the end of my dough."

"I see. In that case, I'll be pulling them with DoT and then hand them over to you. Wait here."

I ran up the hill and looked around. About a thousand feet away I noticed a cave opening, surrounded by a low stockade with some dirty flags flapping over it. The ground around me was streaked with trails which were swarming with gnolls. The closest to me was a hurried level 3 messenger. I selected him as target and activated the Thorn Grass. The gnoll swung round, hissing, and trotted toward me. I cast Life Absorption and scrambled down the hill, taking cover behind Lynch's back.

He descended on the mob, stabbing him wherever he could reach. But he couldn't pull him off me fast enough as I'd aggroed the mob too much. Ignoring his opponent, the monster went for me.

You've been hit by Messenger Gnoll! Damage sustained: 16 points. Life 44/60

You've been hit by Messenger Gnoll! Damage

sustained: 12 points. Life 32/60

It did hurt. I drew my dagger and we started slicing the mob up between the two of us. At the same time I was trying to cast Life Absorption. Twice the mob's hits made me lose concentration until finally the spell went through. I only had 20 Life left when the gnoll yelled something and passed away.

You've received Experience!

Just. I was no tank any way you looked at it. Lynch crouched by the body and lay one hand on it.

With a clank, the mob's money divided between the group members. I was now two coppers richer.

"He's got a letter on him too, binds on pickup," Lynch said. "Some low-level quest or other. Want it?"

"You can have it. He's not our last messenger."

We sat quiet for a couple minutes restoring life and mana while Lynch was changing his bandages.

"That's it, the bandages're finished," he said with regret. "I only raised the skill to 3 points. I have to heal 4 hits at a time."

"You shouldn't have started. It will cost you too much at the first levels," I watched a small group who had arrived running in their underpants and were now busy touching their graves and picking up their gear that appeared in place of tombstones.

Irose. "You ready?"

I waited for his affirmative and flew up the hill. This time I chose a single gnoll worker lugging a basketful of earth. DoT, two Life Absorptions, a quick hand-to-hand and finally, the welcome experience message. This time it was much easier: the worker had less life than the messenger so he packed up in no time.

Lynch bent over him, surprised. "Listen, he's got this Soul Stone here but it won't let me touch it. WTF?"

"Oh. Jeez, it has to be mine," I hurried to the body and picked up a nondescript little blue rock.

The Soul Stone. Contains the soul of a level 4 gnoll. To raise him, use the Summoning the Undead spell.

I moved the spell to the quick access panel, clenched the stone and cast the spell. With thunder and lightning the stone crumbled to dust. The earth parted right in front of the crouched Lynch's nose, letting out a Gnoll Zombie. The kid yelped and rolled out of its way. "You could've told me!"

"I'm telling you now," I guffawed. "Meet Rover, my pet. He'll be our tank."

I spent some quality time in the raised creature's custom settings. I renamed the zombie Rover and entered a few commands: as you'd guess, mainly Attack! Heel! Off! and others in the same vein. I ended up with a level 3 pet—not too bad considering that the stone fell out of a level 4 monster.

"Now it'll be easier. Sit!" I told Rover and ran to pull another gnoll.

The zombie was nothing to complain about. He made a decent tank pulling the aggro to himself and not letting the mobs kick our poorly armored asses. His hits were mediocre, 5 to 7 points, but he could take the heat and absorb damage. The farming process—that is to say, monotonously grinding mobs—started to fall into a pattern.

The next three mobs we ripped apart no problem. We even got another messenger, this time level five. After his death, a blue shimmering mist enveloped our bodies and the two of us gasped in unison.

"Ding!" I said.

"Up!" Lynch yelled.

Congratulations! You've reached Level 2!

Racial bonus: +1 to Intellect

Class bonus: + I to Intellect, +1 to Spirit

5 Characteristic points available!

I opened the char's menu. After a second thought, I added 3 points to Intellect, 1 to Spirit and 1 to Constitution. Would do for the time being.

Intellect had already reached 16 which gave me 160 points mana—not bad at all for level 2.

"You finished with yours?" I asked a vacant-looking Lynch.

"Five more sec. You can start pulling."

"Okay," I nodded and began climbing the hill feeling I'd been living there for ages.

Whereby I immediately stumbled into two gnoll gatherers.

"é*@&!" the toothy bastards yelled, lunging at me.

"é*@¢$!!" I yelled back, tumbling down the hill. "I'm bringing a train! Two gnolls! Rover, attack!"

I set him loose on the farthest monster. Now I had to deal with just one. "This one's ours," I shouted to Lynch.

He nodded and stepped in the mob's way. After some quality clashing of steel and humming of spells, the gnoll collapsed.

You've received Experience!

While I'd fought, I kept casting Life Absorption as the quickest way to deal dam age. So now my life bar was still at 100% while Lynch's hit indicator hovered in the orange zone.

The next moment, my zombie groaned and crumbled to dust. His gnoll, albeit rather bruised, turned round and went for us.

"Wait, step aside. Let me first," I told Lynch and lunged forward burying my dagger in the gnoll's eye.

You've dealt 14 points critical damage to Gnoll Gatherer!

Immediately I stopped his clawed paw with my face. His next punch landed on my liver. Jeez, it hurt.

Lynch joined in from behind my back, adding a lovely aggro-generating bunch of hits. The monster swung round to face him which allowed me to step back and cast Life Absorption again.

More hits. A flash of magic.

You've received experience!

Got him.

"Great job, man," I offered Lynch my hand. "You did it by the book."

He shook my hand, his face serious. "SO did you, cutie. No fuss, just got the job done. You're a legend."

We smiled to each other.

"I hope one of them at least happens to have another Soul Stone," I said. "My zombie has given up the ghost."

"Let him rest in peace. He saved his master's life. Lived like a dog, died like a hero."

"Must be his karma," I mused watching Lynch crouch by the bodies.

More coin-rattling. I now was five coppers richer.

"When it rains it pours," Lynch cheered up. "This one has a Stone and a gray bracelet, call it twenty more coppers in the till. Oh. The other one's empty."

"You can have it all. Ill have the next one. But give me the stone, please. Time to resuscitate our hero."

The hero didn't live up to his fame. The raised zombie was level 2. I really needed to get myself some stuff with pet leveling bonuses. Never mind. Id have to change the pet when I got another stone, as simple as that.

Two minutes for regen, then I rushed off to get us another gnoll.

The farming process continued without a glitch. I kept pulling a gnoll or sometimes two. The loot was meager to say the least: a tew coppers apiece plus miscellaneous trash like rusty daggers, some ore, and all sorts of statless items. Once or twice we had a couple of quest bracelets albeit gray ones. To get anything cool you had to head deep into the caves.

Two hours into the game, we were level 5. Each had a couple hundred coppers and a dozen bracelets to show for our trouble. On top of that, I got myself twelve Soul Stones although now the raised zombies' levels 2 to 4 didn't look like much compared to my level 5.

We were meditating after a complex fight with two more gnolls when a high-level Druid dashed past right between us.

"Train!" he yelled and disappeared, speed-buffed.

"What did he say?" Lynch turned to me. Then we were swallowed by a mob crowd chasing the druid.

No idea where he'd pulled so many. He must have fallen out of a cave and bolted for the city not bothering about the low-level guards. It had worked for him. But not for us.

They spent us in five seconds flat. Still sitting, I took two crits to my back, jumped to my feet for a second and collapsed again. A Tuborg haze clouded my view.

Warning! You have died in battle. In a moment, you'll be respawn in your last bind point.

You can change the bind point using a special spell or artifact. A grave containing all your gear and the contents of your bag will appear in place of your death. Only you can pick them up. If you don't reach your grave within three hours, it'll be teleported to the nearest city graveyard.

~ ~ ~

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