"We're back at Amaharpe!" Halls said with a hint of disbelief in his voice. How did they manage to leave outside of the Chaotic Dogma Realm and arrive at this place? Didn't that voice just say not too long ago that there was no way for them to escape? Then, what did you call this?
"Is it possible that we've already reached the end of the Chaotic Dogma Realm and the trial was just a hoax all along?" Guan Yu asked.
Zi Yi frowned, "That should not be the case. It would be pointless to lie to us. Even more important than that, our SS-ranked quest has yet to say that we've successfully reached the end. Therefore, it's impossible for us to have done so without realizing it."
"Oh, right..." Guan Yu rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. He had completely forgotten to even consider that part.
"I believe the most important question to consider is, why were transported here in the first place? Also, if this is a part first trial as the voice said, how exactly do we go about completing it?" Luna said.
"According to the voice, in order to finish the first trial, we have to make it to the second floor. However, is that even possible considering our current location?" Valentine furrowed his brows as he observed the surroundings with his Eyes of Magic. At first, he believed that it may just be an elaborate illusion.
However, Valentine did not discover anything that appeared to be out of place. There was no doubt in his mind that they were currently in front of Amaharpe. If this was an illusion, then it was one way above his current skill level. After all, even his Eyes of Magic had its limits.
As everyone was speculating and trying to figure out what was going on, Izroth carefully studied the surrounding area. He was more sensitive to sudden changes, especially when the change involved his own physical body. This was one of the benefits of cultivating the Heavenly Golden Body physique, as well as, having a strong soul.
Izroth stared down at his hand as he moved his wrist around in a circular motion. The more he moved his body around, the more suspicious he became.
Izroth then closed his eyes and concentrated on using his powerful Soul Sense trait to perceive his surroundings. Just a few moments later, his eyes opened with a look of clarity within them.
'So that's how it is. If not for my Soul Sense trait, I would have never been able to tell the difference with absolute certainty. However, this method leaves no room for doubts.'
When everyone noticed Izroth's actions, and how he seemed to have found an answer by the look of clarity in his eyes, they could not help but become curious.
"Did you discover something already?" Zi Yi asked curiously.
"It will be easier if you experience it yourself. Concentrate on using your Soul Sense trait to perceive your surroundings. Do not trust any of your other senses and you will understand." Izroth said with a carefree expression on his face.
When Izroth said those words, everyone immediately turned their focus onto using their Soul Sense trait.
The first person to discover something was Luna. After she opened her eyes, she looked at Izroth with a slightly confused expression on her face. What she found out was shocking! She was here, yet she was also not here at the same time! In other words, this was not her real body.
A few moments later, everyone opened their eyes and had baffled expressions on their faces. Surprisingly, even Halls and Valentine were able to pick up on the changes with their Soul Essence being the lowest out of the group.
"This..." Guan Yu wanted to say something, but he did not know how to put it into words.
"Could it be that our real bodies are still within the Chaotic Dogma Realm and these current bodies are copies of sorts?" Zi Yi said with a voice full of uncertainty. She had never heard about anything like this happening within RML, however, that did not mean that it was impossible.
Izroth nodded, "That's basically how it is. You can say that we are currently avatars of our avatars. Well, to not make it so complicated, we'll just say we are a form of avatars at the moment. Our real bodies have not actually left from within the Endless Pandemonium Tower."
Everyone was shocked by that sudden revelation. But, at least making it to the second floor was possible if their actual bodies were still within the tower itself.
After Izroth spoke those words, the same voice that spoke out not too long ago, appeared once again.
"Hmph! Maybe you are not a totally hopeless bunch after all. However, you've only solved a mere piece of the puzzle." The voice said.
"How do we reach the second floor?" Zi Yi asked.
"You'd like to know, wouldn't you?! Tch, people these days can never do anything without help! Useless! Hopeless! Foolish!" The voice continued to spew out insults.
Zi Yi's facial expression darkened. This voice was being extremely rude! All she had done was simply ask how to reach the second floor and it just constantly insulted them without purpose.
"You-!" Just as Zi Yi was about to scold the voice, it stopped its insults.
"Prove yourselves! Find the Returning Shard or stay trapped within the tower forever. Either way is fine with me, after all, everything is hopeless in the end." The voice then faded out once again before anyone else had a chance ask any other questions.
"Returning Shard? What the heck is a Returning Shard?" Halls said as a frown appeared on his face. That voice sure was vague in everything it said. It did not even leave them with any clues as to how to find this so-called Returning Shard.
"We should be grateful that it even told us that much with its attitude." Zi Yi said as she let out a small sigh.
"I wonder what's going on at Amaharpe... There are so many people in front of the gates. Is there something big going on?" Guan Yu said.
This same question crossed everyone's mind as well. Why were there so many people gathered?
"I'll see if I can find out anything from one of my friends." Luna said as opened up her system interface. However, she was still unable to access the messaging system.
Luna shook her head as she said, "The message system seems to be blocked for our avatars as well. I suppose it's due to our main bodies still being within the Chaotic Dogma Realm."
However, how could Luna know that even if their real bodies were here, the message system would still be inaccessible thanks to the event currently going on?
"For now, we should focus on obtaining some form of information as to what is taking place here. Halls and Guan Yu will ask around to accomplish this task." Izroth said.
"Leave it to us!" Guan Yu said with a voice full of confidence.
"We'll make sure to gather as much information as we can before we return." Halls responded.
Halls and Guan Yu then began to go around collecting information from the nearby players. Even if they were not able to handle the complicated stuff, at the very least, they could collect information without much issue.
"Zi Yi, do you have any idea as to what the Returning Shard would look like?" Izroth asked. Out of everyone here, Zi Yi was the most knowledgable about the world of RML. After all, she had read hundreds of books that were available within the Amaharpe library. If there was anyone who would have any clues regarding the Returning Shard, it would be her.
Zi Yi rested her thumb and index finger on her chin as she began scanning through her memories.
A few moments later, Zi Yi muttered some words to herself. "Ah, that's it...!" She remembered that she had indeed come across the name Returning Shard somewhere before. Or rather not the name, but something similar.
"It's not much, but I remember that a shard which returned someone to their home was mentioned briefly in a popular fable I read at the Amaharpe library. I'll spare you the entire story." Zi Yi said.
She then continued, "A man went on a journey far away from home. In the end, he accomplished his goal, but he was cursed to wander in a world without direction. At the end of the story, the man eventually battles against a powerful beast for seven days and seven nights. With his willpower alone, the man managed to tear the beast's soul from its body and from it, a shard was formed. He then returned home at last."
"Could the shard in the story be the Returning Shard that voice spoke of?" Luna asked.
Zi Yi nodded, "There's a good chance that the shard in the story is related to the Returning Shard."
"In the story, the shard was formed after the man tore the beast's soul from its body. Obviously, I do not believe that anyone here is capable of such a feat at this point. However, we may not need to be." Izroth said.
Valentine thought about it for a bit. He then said, "A powerful beast... If we were to give it an equivalent, then that would be an elite or boss monster. In this situation, it may be safer to assume that it's the latter."
"Agreed. Though, the easiest way to find out is to simply test it for ourselves." Izroth said.
After coming to that conclusion, as Izroth awaited the return of Guan Yu and Halls, he approached the gates that led into Amaharpe. However, when he tried to enter into the city itself, there was an invisible barrier blocking his path.
'Just as I suspected. Our avatars cannot enter into the actual city itself.'
Izroth opened his inventory and discovered that he could still access the items there as if it were his actual body. It seemed that besides a few restrictions here and there, their avatars were basically an exact copy of their original bodies.
A few moments later, Halls and Guan Yu finally returned with some important information.
Apparently, sometime after they entered into the Chaotic Dogma Realm, a surprise event popped up out of seemingly nowhere. The name of that event was Protectors of Amaharpe.
Players who participated in the event would defend the gates and walls of Amaharpe against wave after wave of monsters.
After explaining all of their findings to Izroth and everyone else, it gave them a much clearer understanding of their current situation.
"Then, do you know when the next wave will start?" Izroth asked.
"In around five minutes. It should be listed in your events section." Zi Yi responded. During their conversation, she was reminded of the events section of the system interface. She had nearly forgotten all about it due to everything else that occurred within such a short period of time. If she had remembered sooner, it may have saved them a bit of time. However, they still would have needed more information regardless of that.
"Then, we'll face the first elite monster we see. If it fails to grant us a Returning Shard, then there will be no choice but to defeat a boss level monster." Izroth said.
However, doing so would be quite tricky in this situation. Not only were numerous guilds present, but those top guilds would be vying over the bosses that spawned.
Izroth was told all about the sectors of the top guilds. It was no different than when those top sects within the Seven Realms used to claim certain territory as their own during important events.
'A boss that spawns in the sector of a top guild will give them an obvious advantage. Our best chance is to deal with the boss before it approaches close to Amaharpe. But, that may not be completely possible. However, if we were to do that it would mean...'
"Right now, we should make our way to the frontline. This first trial may not be so simple after all." Izroth said as he began heading towards the frontline with his party members following after him. They were going based on pure speculation at the moment.
There was a good possibility that the Returning Shard the voice spoke of could be metaphoric or hidden away somewhere else on this battlefield. But, in the end, the only way to find out was to push onward.