1 The compass.

Within a bright flash of white light, three people suddenly appeared atop a large ancient ruin. This ruin was located within a clearing, surrounded by a seemingly endless dense forest. The group made their way down a corroded staircase, towards the bottom floor, as the scent of rain and pine flooded their noses.

"Well, we finally made it, now what?" The only female within the group announced with a somewhat restless tone, her heavy armour clanking as she sat down on a piece of shattered pillar.

"Warren, any luck?" An older looking man in the group asked, staring at a young man fiddling with a compass.

"Nope, it's useless, the bloody thing keeps spinning." Warren snapped in frustration, pelting the compass at a large statue of a turtle, to which it shattered on impact.

"Ahhh, what the hell!" The female quickly jumped up and ran over to the shattered remains of the compass, picking them up and storing them away, "That was expensive you idiot."

"If it was so expensive why doesn't the damn thing work, huh?" Warren lashed out in response, clearly still frustrated, "Are you just spending guild funds on useless trinkets again?"

As the two began bickering, the older man started wandering clockwise around the ruins, taking note of the architecture, it was somewhat Mayan in appearance.

What caught his interest were the four different stone statues surrounding the ruins, each supported by a large gold encrusted pillar covered in faded red paint and overgrown with moss, which stood out from the rest of the ruin's aesthetic.

On each of the stone statues, there was a large coloured crystal sphere included somewhere within the design.

Starting at the statue closest to his group, it looked to be modelled after an alligator snapping turtle, and within its mouth was a large black crystal sphere.

The next statue was a coiled serpent-like dragon, which held a similar blue crystal within its claws,

A red crystal was next, located within the grip of the phoenix statue's talons.

And lastly, underneath the paw of the tiger statue was a white crystal.

The old man found himself mumbling to himself while staring into the empty stone eyes of the tiger statue, before it suddenly clicked. "A black turtle, blue dragon, red phoenix and white tiger."

"Guys, I think I've got a solution" he yelled at the bickering duo. They quickly silenced themselves and walked over. "Which way did the guy say we had to go?" the old man asked Warren.

"Directly east from the ruin's portal" Warren responded, "But our compass isn't working." he followed the old man as he began to wander around.

The old man walked around for a little while, leading the other two towards the statue of the dragon, "If I'm correct in my assumption, then this one points towards east". He then stood there quietly, staring at the others as they looked back at him confused.

The girl looked at him as if she were waiting for an explanation, but after a minute of silence she got impatient, "Alright Merlin, I'll bite, how could you possibly know that?" she asked in a sarcastic tone.

The old man, referred to as Merlin, smirked and began walking another loop around the ruins, pointing at each of the statues and reciting its name, "The Vermillion Bird of the South… The White Tiger of the West… The Black Turtle of the North… So that leaves… The Azure Dragon of the East…"

"The what now?" The girl responded, not knowing what to make of this.

Merlin sighed as he continued to explain, "We started in what looks like a Mayan temple, but strangely enough, these statues don't fit the aesthetic at all. That is because these statues are based on Chinese design, and represent the four Chinese beasts who relate to the cardinal directions… So this place is basically a giant compass"

Warren, who had caught on after the explanation, nodded to signify he understood, however the woman still had a dumbfounded look on her face. "Alright, that's enough, he doesn't pay you to think, we've wasted enough time here" Warren spoke loudly, clapping his hands and walking in the direction the dragon statue was facing.

The three began walking east away from the ruins, delving deep into the dense forest. Fortunately, a large beam of light could be seen in the sky, signalling to everyone where the ruins are, and acting as a beacon for anyone lost in the forest.

As they were walking, they suddenly heard a high pitched scream, they turned around and drew their weapons, only to find that their female companion had simply walked into cobwebs.

"Merire, you idiot…" Warren growled, yet his animosity was rudely interrupted by the sound of rustling.

"We've got company!" Merlin shouted, getting in a low stance while holding two long daggers. Warren tightened his grip on his long green crystal staff and Merire pulled a greatsword out of the sheath on her back. The rustling grew louder and an ominous shriek echoed throughout the forest.

About twelve seconds later the shrubbery was pushed aside and a large spider appeared in front of the trio. It was as tall as Merlin was, with thick hairy legs and 8 red beady eyes. "Bloody hell, This one's almost as big as the ones at home." Warren joked in the most stereotypical Australian accent he could manage.

Merlin chuckled, taking a step towards the spider before quickly jumping into the air and landing on the spider's back. While holding both daggers in a reverse grip, he plunged his fists down on the back of the spiders head, jamming both blades into the creature's skull. A small robotic jingle played in his head, followed by three small pop-up notifications in his peripheral vision.

「3600 damage, critical hit!」

「1200 damage.」

「Passive skill ⟪Rupture⟫ has triggered, target is now bleeding.」

Warren pointed his staff at the spider and began chanting, glowing runes appeared around the staff, gathering within an orange glowing ball at the tip.

Merlin quickly jumped off the spider's back, narrowly avoiding the wave of fire that slammed into the spider's body. The fire quickly spread along the spider's hair, and within seconds the creature was nothing more than a fireball erratically dancing atop a pool of its own blood.

As quickly as it appeared, the spider had died before Merire had the chance to attack.

"Stay on your guard, it hasn't been long since we entered but we've already been attacked." Merlin warned the other two, as he wiped spider blood off of his daggers.

The group continued east for half an hour without encountering any more monsters, what served more of a challenge was the environment. Merire, who was covered in a full set of plate armour from head to toe, had the most difficulty traversing the dense forest, while the other two wore clothes that gave better mobility, and comfort.

"So, what made you decide to quit being a ranker anyway?" Bored of just travelling, Merire attempted to strike up conversation with Merlin. "You were one of the best players in the world and now you're hiring lower level guilds to be your bodyguards while you explore ruins."

"Merire, stop talking." Warren cut her off, not wanting her to offend Merlin.

"You cant say you're not curious, he used to make so much money from contracts, but now he just looks at rocks all day. The forums still blow up every time someone bumps into him in the wild." Merire tried to argue her point, only to find a crystal staff flying towards her head.

"Warren, it's alright." Merlin tried to calm Warren down, "It isn't a secret, most people just don't really understand for some reason, but if you're interested, we've got a little bit of travel to go, I could tell you while we walk."

After acknowledgement from both his companions, Merlin continued walking east, throwing out a single question, "Do you know how this world was created?"

Merire glanced at Merlin and shrugged her shoulders. Warren noticed where this was going and sighed. "Just keep the lecture short this time around, dot points, please" he begged.

Merlin looked at him and grinned, and then turned to Merire, "Well, I planned on keeping this short because we're close to the target spot anyway." He cleared his throat and the lecture began.

"So, most games are created by teams of designers, artists, programmers, and so on, and every aspect of the game and its world is designed by people fulfilling their roles. This one however is unique, it's not even made by people, it is entirely generated from an artificial intelligence known as Gaia, the goddess of this world."

"Gaia is responsible for everything within this world, and it's the reason the game seems to never end, the game is constantly expanded by Gaia. It's constantly filtering through the internet, learning about mythology, legend, folklore, history, geography, people, branches of science, art, stories, it finds anything remotely useful and learns from it, hoards it, and then weaves it within its own world."

He stopped talking for a second while climbing over a large felled tree before resuming, "Quests, Monsters, Worlds, Classes, it is all generated by Gaia, and alongside all that content is lore and knowledge, and it's all interwoven into one big story, not just copied and pasted." He stopped talking as he reached an open area in the forest, it was populated by broken ruins covered in vines and moss.

"Alright we're here!" Merlin exclaimed.

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