"Hi there," Lira Fenny said, remembering to smile at the last moment. Stoni was still out of practice smiling.
The little group of barefoot people in cheap off-white shirts and trousers stopped and looked up at her. "Yes?" said one, a well-muscled man with dark brown hair that matched his eyes. He was at the front of the group, all four of whom also looked like they exercised regularly and strenuously. "I don't remember you. Are you new here?"
She'd thought they were new, but his words and condition changed her mind. "Yes. I'm guessing you aren't? Oh, I'm Lira."
"Coda," the man said. "We've all been here for a while. Actually we're more than ready to move on to a more... challenging region." The others made sounds of mixed agreement and annoyance. One of the other three was a man, one was a woman, and the third wasn't clearly either. Though only Coda appeared to be more than a year or two older than Lira.
Something about the group seemed familiar to Lira. She examined their faces, hair and stature, but she couldn't quite place them. "Sorry for staring, but I can't shake the feeling that I've seen you before."
But where could I have seen them? They only just left the temple, and I was outside the city until recently. The only people I saw were...
She looked over the group again. Another woman in similar plain clothes stepped out of the temple and joined the group. Her expression bore a mixture of frustration, disappointment and annoyance. Lira put the facts together and realised what had happened. "Oh!"
Coda raised a bushy eyebrow. "Oh?"
"I saw you leaving the city earlier. All of you, together. And you all just respawned at the temple, right?"
"We sure did," said a particularly bitter young woman to Coda's left. "With Bindiby here that's a total party wipeout. It's not meant to be that tough to get out of newbie regions. Especially not at our ACL."
"Is that some kind of power level?" Lira asked.
"The average class level of the party," Coda explained.
"Ah. And class level is...?"
"Wow, you're as fresh as they come," said Bindiby, the last woman to arrive. She and Lira examined one another. Her short-cropped hair was pale blue, which was unusual. Her eyes were the same pale blue, which was even more unusual in Stoni's estimation. She showed less signs of working out her arms than the other party members, and no signs of being impressed by what she saw in Lira. "CL is a measure of your ability ranks," Bindiby continued. "Each ability you level up to Poor is worth one CL and doubles in CL value each time you raise its rank. If you pushed all five abilities of one class up to Masterful rank, that would be 160 CL points. We're all close to 20 CL. Which ought to be enough to easily 'venture forth' but for the bandit scum and their blighted terror hounds!"
Lira felt her face crinkle up. "There's a blight?"
"A blight of bandits, mercenaries, and other sorts of killers," the bitter woman said, and spat into a bush on the edge of the temple garden.
"Come on everyone, we need to get to the bank and try replacing our gear. We won't get anywhere standing around wagging our chins," said Coda, stepping past Lira.
"Is there any point?" Bindiby asked. "It's not like we have any chance of looting our old gear off our bodies. We'd be throwing more money right at the bandits."
"Well I'm not standing around in respawn rags," said the bitter woman. "I know they generate to fit us but I feel like I'm liable to pop a button."
Stoni saw an opportunity. "Mind if I tag along? I haven't seen the bank yet."
Coda shrugged and kept walking. The others hurried along behind him. "Sure, it can't hurt. But don't expect to go adventuring with us. I'm guessing you're not even a five yet."
"True," Lira admitted. She looked over the party of five again. Other than Bindiby they were clearly all muscle focused characters. She could tell that Coda was the leader and guessed he had a class with a mystique requirement. Adept seemed more likely to her than Messenger. Bindiby was a good pick to be a Sage. Stoni also suspected she might be another lem. From the way the second, younger man's intelligent eyes kept roving over distant landmarks, he seemed likely to be a Ranger. The other two were purely muscle in her estimation, most likely Labourers.
That announcement put the widest grin on Lira's face yet. "Actually, I just hit CL one. Teacher abilities are difficult to level alone."
"Ooh, that sounds tough," said Bindiby. "No wonder you want to tag along. No friend group?"
"Nah," Lira said. She didn't elaborate, as Stoni couldn't remember why Lira was alone in Star Town. "You probably guessed I'm a lem. You?"
"Duh, there's no other way to get eyes like this in Riches of Renfros. My element's sky. Is yours height?"
"Yes," Lira said, having now read the rest of the provided character information. "Um, so other than the blue features, do you get any abilities with that?"
"Oh, of course. Sky abilities!"
"Can you demonstrate?" Lira asked with more obvious eagerness than she intended.
"Do you want to get irradiated?"
"Good answer. I'm guessing you haven't discovered any of your abilities yet."
Lira shook her head. "I've got no idea what to expect."
"Well don't try anything around other people. Or structures. It can get messy."
"Thanks. So, I know you're Bindiby but you missed me introducing myself. I'm Lira."
"Nice to meet you, Lira the teacher. Have you met everyone else?"
"Sorry," said Coda from the front of the group. "Completely slipped my mind." The conversation paused as the group passed by a butcher's shop and everyone held their noses. "She's Vil, he's Garthol, and they're Robin."
"Vil, Garthol and Robin," Lira repeated. "I'll try to remember you all, sorry if I don't. How long have you been playing, and how did you all meet?"
"I'm an old hand at VIVID but I rolled this character in RoR last year to prepare to hang with this bunch."
"Coda's my uncle," Robin said, speaking for the first time. Stoni quickly decided she rather liked their voice.
"The rest of us joined a couple of months ago," Vil said, sounding a little less bitter than before. "We're friends outside."
Coda stopped outside a very imposing, very square building with several blatantly visible armed guards. "Looks like we're gonna be here for the rest of the morning at least," he said, his shoulders slumping. "The queue goes all the way around the building."
"Nothing else we can do," Vil grumbled. "Otherwise I'd suggest one of us withdraws for everyone. Unless you all want to go out and collect flowers or try to get a job sweeping."
"Don't count on that," Lira said with another headshake. "The market's really crowded and I doubt anyone's looking for more workers." She examined the people she could see in the queue. "Looks like a lot of recent respawns."
"I think you're right," Coda said. "We're far from the only ones having trouble with bandits."
"Everyone," Bindiby said in a very small voice.
"What was that, Bin?" Robin asked.
"They're not letting anyone out. It's a siege."