The raid trailed into the room in perfectly disciplined order. Since they were mostly recruits, I figured there would be a lot more pushing, shoving, and getting in each other’s way, but I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The Knights were a top guild, so it only reasoned that they’d have top-level applicants. Plus, one look at Cedra’s perennially scowling face would probably make even the most undisciplined players want to be on their best behavior.
Alizia stopped making faces at Cedra’s back as soon as I looked at her. When I turned away again, I could just see her sticking her tongue out at me from the corner of my eye.
As the last raider slipped through the doorway, I motioned for our group to move up for a better view. The room on the other side was just barely wide enough for the raid to fit in. I was surprised as I assumed the boss’s area would be huge, until I noticed the large, makeshift partition right behind the sub-boss. The nameplate on the desk showed their target’s name but I used Inspect to find out more.
|Name: Miss Beatly, Raid Boss Secretary||Resists|
|Level: 28||Light: ???|
|Type: Raid Sub-Boss|| Dark: ???
|Race: Human (Possessed)||Earth: ???|
|Faction: none||Water: ???|
|HP: 30,500/30,500||Fire: ???|
|MP: ???||Wind: ???|
|Special Attributes: ???|
As the tank hesitantly advanced, Miss Beatly pushed her glasses onto the tight bun on her head, moved from behind the desk, and loudly cleared her throat. “You do not have an appointment. I’m going to have to ask you to leave or I’ll have to call security.”
Tunk, the broad-shouldered, heavily armored forest giant at the front of the raid banged his sword against his shield and advanced. “I got your security right here, ya shrew. Yeah, that’s a Tunk a shoutin’ at ya!”
The veins in Miss Beatly’s forehead looked like they were about to burst as she stared at Tunk in disbelief. Normally when someone uses Shout, the mob immediately rushes them. It looked like she’d resisted it at first—until ten seconds later. She leaned back with a howl as huge batwings burst from her shoulders. Tunk scratched his head and looked back toward Cedra who gave him an annoyed motion to attack.
Before he could get to her, Miss Beatly shot twenty feet into the air and pointed to the back of the raid. “Security!”
The door in the partition burst open and a wave of molefolk in light blue uniforms with tiny metal badges filtered out, waving small clubs.
“What is this crap?” Cedra asked from against the back wall. “I’ve done this dungeon at least two dozen times and none of this ever showed up. Regroup. Tunk stay on the boss. Other tanks on the adds.”
Four raiders dropped before their tanks and other more durable members could get through. From our vantage point at the other end of the room, I couldn’t see much of what happened next, but judging by the screams, I assumed they lost a few more before they finished off the mole security.
“You can’t blame the recruits for not being ready for this,” Georgius said. “Permission to join in.”
“Or at least let me rez the fallen,” Noradine said.
“Not yet,” Cedra said. “I want to see how they handle a little adversity. That Nibble fellow was already halfway to the adds before I gave the order. Maybe these applicants have more surprises in them.”
Miss Beatly’s dull gray robes barely moved as she dropped from the sky and tore into Tunk. She crashed on top of the surprised tank and unloaded with what looked to be nothing more than her fingernails. Despite the mundanity of her weapon, the damage number were not. Each new blow drew huge sparks against Tunk’s formerly shiny armor and rocked the huge forest giant back further and further, shaking loose bits of the ceiling that were fortunately too small to do any damage, at least for now.
The raid’s response was a furious flash of healing spells on their brave tank. I immediately recognized the green tint of Woodsman spells, and figured the ones with the lighter green belonged to the Druid sub-class while the ones with more red belonged to Shamans. The bright white ones I knew were from Light Mages . . . except a few of them were coming from what I had assumed were Warriors—Oh, right. They had a sub-class that could cast some healing spells: Shining Knights. I didn’t find the yellow healing of the Bruisers, like Yary, until I focused on the battle with the molefolk in back. That made sense since their healing aftereffect had too short of a range to effect Tunk in the front.
As ferocious as Miss Beatly’s assault was, Tunk was doing fine now that the initial shock was over. Cedra gave the order and the rest of the raid joined in on Ms. Beatly. The room turned into a fireworks display as spells flew from everywhere. With the noise from those as well as the clashing, bashing, and slashing of weapons, I was incredibly grateful that anytime someone spoke in group chat, the game dulled the outside noise so you could hear your group.
Alizia yawned. “This sure is a lot like golf or bowling.”
“They certainly are professional athlete-level skilled,” Olaf grinned as he stared at the three Thieves unloading on the back of the boss.
“Not saying they’re not good, just that I’ll bet it’s lots of fun when you’re participating, but boring as heck to watch. Does anyone have any cards?”
Miss Beatly shot back up into the air out of reach again. The raid continued to unload on her with ranged attacks, but it did no further damage. She screamed “Security!” again and from the doorway another wave of molefolk rushed out. Miss Beatly flapped down and resumed mauling Tunk. This time, they only caught one person off guard before the raid’s other tanks got control of the rampaging moles. The rest of the raid joined back in on Ms. Beatly a few seconds later.
“Would anyone mind if I took a quick nap?” Alizia asked. “Wake me when this is over.” Her eyes focused on Olaf. “You’re gonna draw dirty pictures and write offensive things on my face while I’m sleeping, aren’t you? Maybe even the same stuff I did to you a few days ago.”
“Didn’t you say you wanted to be more like me?” I asked.
“Then, stop talking and watch these guys. See if you can learn a thing or two,” I said.
Alizia mimed zipping her mouth and then saluted.
When Miss Beatly hit 60%, she again flew out of reach. This time the raid was already in position to take on the molefolk before she called them out. The raid quickly dispatched the squat security force and then resumed attacking the boss. The process repeated itself again three minutes later.
“What’s our plan for when they finish Madam Angry Wings over there?” Alizia asked. “We just saunter into the next room after them and then start interrogating Loony Tunes?”
Olaf looked at me expectantly.
“Something like that,” I said.
“Enhh, wrong answer,” Alizia said. “We were looking for something involving a platypus, thirty yards of industrial wiring, the 2017 Washington Generals, and a clever plan to outwit the witless.”
Olaf laughed. “Horus is at his best when he improvises on the spot. I trust he will come up with something.”
Though Olaf had always had a bit too much faith in me, for once I agreed with him. “As odd and out there as Clewd is, I don’t think we really can plan ahead. There’s no telling what he might do. We’re just going to have to adapt.”
As if on cue, Miss Beatly flew up again. The raid’s other tanks moved into position for the usual wave of molefolk, while the secretary turned toward them with a cruel smile. She pointed a blood-stained finger at Tunk. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Blackness emerged at the feet of the confused forest giant, and before he could realize what was happening, he was sucked up into the newly formed portal. Miss Beatly casually floated down to the ground, and a second later, an armor-covered corpse shot from the portal and clattered next to her. An eerie silence took over the room. No one seemed to know what to do next.
Finally, a dwarf Light Mage bravely cast a heal on the unmoving pile that was Tunk. Naturally, the spell landed for a 0, but it did snap the rest of the raid out of their shocked and confused funk. Almost as soon as the spell landed, the beaverkin Nibble’s spikey hair could be seen bouncing through the raid as he pushed his way into position to take over. The boss didn’t wait for him and began flying through the raid taking out whoever she could get her fingernails on.
“Now can I go in?” Georgius asked. “She just one-shotted that tank, and he had gear most level forties would be jealous of.”
“I think that’s more than fair,” Noradine said. “These applicants have already performed better than we did on our first raid. Remember the ettins?”
Cedra’s eyes stayed on Tunk’s corpse. “You’re never going to let me live that down are you? Probably going to have them carve it into my tombstone. No, I think we should keep back. Did you notice how there weren’t any damage numbers when Tunk got sucked down and spit back up? Might have been my imagination but—"
It took Nibble two Shouts, a blinding punch, and some sort of special ability that caused Miss Beatly to cover her ears before he could get her to focus on him, but by then the damage had been done. Two-thirds of the raid lay dead, and though she only had 40% left, with the slowing pace of attacks, I was sure they didn’t have enough left to finish her off. Then again, this was the first raid I’d ever seen in the game, so what did I know?
This time, when Miss Beatly floated out of range, a rain of protective spells covered the tank. Nibble jumped up shockingly high, given his stumpy, beaverkin legs as the portal appeared below him. He smirked at Miss Beatly as the magic couldn’t quite reach him. Miss Beatly gave him a smirk of her own when black tendrils of energy emerged from the portal to pull him down a few seconds later. Before it spit Nibble’s corpse back up, Georgius activated one of his abilities and shot across the room, knocking the boss from the air.
“You idiot!” Cedra said. “There were no damage numbers again. That ability’s an automatic one-shot. Your gear won’t matter.” She turned to Noradine. “Don’t you dare help him. We’re going to need you to rez everyone when the raid wipes.”
Georgius was a blur, tearing into Miss Beatly like she was a practice dummy. In less than fifteen seconds, he had her down to her last 20%. Despite the non-stop rain of blows, she managed to float away from him into her familiar position at the top of the cavern. As soon as she raised her finger to point at him, he activated the same ability as before and shot up to land a brutal, concussive blow to her head. The frustration and tension in the remaining raid members evaporated and they started chanting his name. They barely got the third “Georgius” out, before the word “Immune” floated off her and their hero slid to the ground with a heavy crash.
Miss Beatly lowered her finger. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
A blinding array of special ability icons flew off of Georgius—I suspected he just activated all of them at once—as the black portal appeared under his feet. Just as Cedra had predicted, he was sucked in and unceremoniously spit out in a dead heap with no damage numbers being displayed.
The boss landed next to the corpse and gave it a kick. No one in the raid moved a muscle as they stared at her in awe, until a wood elf Mage let out a scream and bolted toward the door on the other side of the room. Unfortunately, it was locked. He finally gave up and resorted to running back and forth like a chicken with its head cut off.
It looked like the rest of the raid was about to join him when a four-foot tall gnome whacked him upside the head with the flat part of her massive axe. The elf collapsed comically like a falling tree as she charged the winged monster.
“Only 17% more. Dig deep and we got this!” The gnome crashed into Miss Beatly like she was an army of giants and not sixtyish pounds of head and spindly limbs. “I’m gonna murder you with a winkle. Murderwinkle is on the case!”
The gnome’s brave display shook the raid awake immediately. Arrows and spells flew almost as fast as the yells of encouragement and excitement. The boss’s HP plummeted down at a crazy rate. I wondered why it hadn’t dropped like that before until an empty potion vial rolled into my foot. As I looked around, I could see more and more of them being flung about. Their casters must have been emptying ever mana potion they had. Even a few of the melee were joining in on the act with bright yellow potions I’d never seen before.
“Breaks my heart that I can’t join in on this. Unless someone would care to donate?” Alizia held her hand out.
The damage abruptly slowed nearly to a stop as the boss hit 11%. The raid knew what was coming and what it would mean.
“No matter what happens, I think we should invite that gnome to the guild,” Cedra said.
“Yes, but shouldn’t we get in there now? This is their last tank.” Noradine said. “The boss seems to only do that instakill ability at increments of 10%, so this will be the last one. Or you could let me cast levitate on them? None of them have that spell yet.”
“Not always,” Cedra said. “Remember Dandan? He does an extra one at 5%. And again, no casting anything on them. We’re going to need you to rez them if they wipe and I can’t have you on her aggro list.”
Noradine grumbled under her breath but didn’t object as the boss’s HPs trickled down. Miss Beatly predictably took to the air as nothing Murderwinkle or the rest of the raid did affected her in the slightest, not even the large desk slowed her down when her wings clipped it on her way up.
“We should probably move out of this doorway,” Olaf said in group chat. “I would imagine a raid boss has a large aggro range, and even at 10%, I do not think we can finish it off.”
Alizia scanned the floor and the dozens of potion vials littered about the room. “Yeah, not worth it for empties.”
“The desk!” I said. “That’s it.”
“If she’s like my mom, she probably does keep a bottle of a little something, something in the bottom drawer behind some dusty old files, but I hardly—Horus, stop!” Alizia’s outstretched hand barely grazed my back as I shot in front of Cedra.
“Murderwinkle, you need to get on top of the desk,” I said as loud as I could. I still had to repeat it three times before she noticed over the sound of battle.
Murderwinkle’s eyes quickly found me and then the desk. With her four-foot frame, she made slow progress. Fortunately, most of the melee had followed her. One of the forest giants plucked her off the side with one hand and deposited her above. Almost as soon as the gnome’s feet hit the top, a portal appeared below the desk.
Tendrils of darkness slowly crept from the ground below, swirling toward Murderwinkle. The room took on an eerie silence as everyone’s breath caught as one. The tendrils reached two feet, then three, before snapping hard just shy of four. When the raid let out a cheer, Murderwinkle ducked her tiny head beneath the eight-foot desk and began taunting the hole.
Miss Beatly let out a cavern-shaking roar that brought everyone back to the present. She landed with a hard thump on the thickly polished desk. Murderwinkle met her with axe and shield. The raid joined in with the same exuberance as before, however, after over a minute Miss Beatly’s HPs had barely moved. My eyes darted about and I noticed that almost everyone was using mundane ranged weapons. The melee had a hard time reaching the boss on top of the tall desk, and almost no potions were being tossed about by the casters. I assumed they were out.
The old me began to rear his head, but I pushed him aside. I needed to be decisive, and my instincts told me what I needed to do. “Guys, get in here. They need all the help they can get.”
I summoned my bow and Olaf’s dagger flashed besides me.
“You kids have fun,” Alizia said from the doorway. “I, ahh . . . don’t have any ranged weapons. Yup. Don’t at all have a fear of old-timey schoolmarms.”
I readied my bow but then quickly dispelled it when I noticed that distinct lack of spells landing on Murderwinkle. Throughout the fight, it had been very easy to find the main tank by the constant glow as spell after spell landed on them from the healers. However, at this point, the only way I could locate the tiny gnome was by following the trail of arrows, bolts, and blasts to the boss and then looking down.
I fired off a Regrowth without even thinking and immediately started another one. “I don’t think she’s going to make it. I’m sorry guys, this was a really bad idea.”
As soon as my old doubts began their “I told you sos,” Olaf laughed and reminded me why the lesson I’d learned out was still right. Hopping off the head of a forest giant onto the desk, Olaf turned back and winked at me. “We have this.”
“Crap out of mana already. She’s gonna need a miracle or a truckload of potions to stay up.”
I must have accidentally said that out loud from my frustration instead of in group chat as Noradine chuckled next to me. “Not a miracle, just a fellow guildee.”
The white light of Noradine’s spell completely covered Murderwinkle. Even the boss had to shield her eyes from the spell’s brightness. When my sight returned, Murderwinkle’s HP bar was back to full and didn’t move even when Miss Beatly landed a trio of brutal strikes around the tank’s shield.
“We’re going to have to have a talk about this later,” Cedra said with a sigh.
When the boss finally did manage to do some damage, Noradine casually flicked her wrists and her spell undid it. “This fight would go faster with some help, dearie.”
Cedra nodded slowly and then summoned a glowing spear with a tip larger than the thin shaft could possibly support. She leapt into the air, just like Georgius had before, and slammed down on top of the boss. To her credit, Ms. Beatly somehow managed to stay on her feet. While Georgius had hit the boss with such speed that my mind couldn’t even register a quarter of the damage numbers that flew up, the numbers from Cedra’s blows were very easy to read. They were so huge that they could probably be read through the earth and dozens of miles away in Grimrag. She finished the last 2% of the boss’s HPs in only three brutal blows, smashing Miss Beatly hard against the cavern wall. My breath caught as I waited for her to topple, but she just sort of stuck there.
When I finally finished staring at the defeated sub-boss in awe, I was surprised to find that I must have been the only one who couldn’t believe she was really, finally defeated. I’d assumed everyone was as amazed as I was by the epic fight, but everyone besides my group mates were going about their business nonchalantly like they’d seen this hundreds of time before. With the senior members of the guild, it occurred to me that they just might have. Had their applicants participated in fights like this on their way in? Was our backdoor way into this dungeon really that much easier?
I spun around as someone punched me on the shoulder. I reflexively summoned my sword and pointed it at my would-be attacker only to lower it when I saw the red-headed Bruiser.
“Sorry, forget my strength sometimes.” Yary shrugged apologetically.
Alizia bumped against me in her rash to hug her friend. “Yarykins!”
Yary had to activate a special ability to escape Alizia’s grasp. “Great to see you too, Alizia. Where’s Olaf?”
Olaf appeared right next to my hip and gave her a lopsided grin. She playfully rubbed his head and he pretended to be annoyed by it.
“That was close,” Yary said “Even with my healing, we almost didn’t make it.”
“That was very impressive.” Olaf pointed to the door where the mole people had come from. “It would be even more impressive if you could get Cedra to allow us to interrogate Clewd in that room.”
Yary turned to the side and beckoned her brother over. “Georgius, would it be OK if our friends watched the next fight too? I’m sure they’ll stay out of the way and be real quiet, right guys?”
Georgius scratched his chin.
“Sure. We’ll be extra quiet.” A slight grin began to form on Alizia’s face. “Or we will be once you pay us the 100 bucks you owe us.”
“I’ll see what I can do about letting you stay. You can have the money after this is over.”
Alizia ignored us and turned to Georgius. “You go do that, Georgie Porgy. And don’t forget to mention how our boy Horus just saved your raid.”
Georgius’s hand shot out like it had been fired from a cannon to cover Alizia’s mouth. “Don’t ever mention that around Cedra. She considers herself the most knowledgeable person in the game about boss fights. There’s no surer way to set her off then to bring up something like that.”
Yary dangled a healing potion in front of Alizia. Georgius reluctantly removed his hand when Alizia sloshed tiny bits of potion on it as she tried to bring it to her mouth.
Abruptly, everyone in the room besides our group turned toward the desk to stare intently at Cedra. No one spoke a word, yet several of them raised their hands every minute or so, followed by one of their number walking forward to kneel at Cedra’s feet.
“Who said miming was a dead art form?” Alizia asked between chugs of her potion.
“I believe that was you. And if it wasn’t, you vowed to beat it to death with this.” Olaf summoned a wooden spoon and handed it to Alizia. “Now go let her know what you think of her performance.”
A couple of the raid members scowled at us. Alizia pointed her potion at them threateningly until they turned back around.
Yary whispered to us. “Cedra is congratulating the raid on a job well done in raid chat. She started using raid chat when she remembered that you guys aren’t in the raid so she couldn’t mute you. She’s calling out members who did particularly well in the fight and distributing loot. She even granted probationary guild member status to Murderwinkle and two of the healers. Oh, yeah, and she is also taking credit for your idea to climb on top of the desk. Georgie made me promise not to say anything to her or I’d—” She shook her fist at Cedra, though I noted that she made sure to move behind a forest giant first, so there was no way Cedra would be able to see.
Olaf pointed at the spoon and then at Cedra.
Alizia grabbed the spoon and bounced it off his head. “Yeah, I ain’t that dumb. But still, how dare she? It’s my job to steal the credit for Horus’s awesome ideas.”
“I wouldn’t mind so much if you’d occasionally take credit for a few of my bad ones too,” I said.
“Right. Like the time you lead us into that pack of level fifteen boars because you ‘forgot’ to us Inspect on em first, when you crushed me to death with your giant feet, or your ‘Taco Tuesday’ idea.” She patted Olaf on the back. “Haven’t been able to stand down wind of my little friend here since then.”
My breath caught in my throat as the entire raid parted in front of me and turned to stare. I desperately wanted to look for help but Cedra’s deep blue eyes had caught me like a tractor beam. I wasn’t sure what she wanted, but with her twitching forehead, was sure I’d regret it when I found out.