Liz took the rear position near Jocelyn and Elly as they entered the imposing fortress of plants. Mark headed things up with George and was followed by Mike. She was glad George had decided to come in with them, as the lack of melee attackers had her worried about the party. She knew she could support incredibly well with her bow but Mr. Fluffers hadn't really been getting a workout lately and she was content to keep it that way.
"What do you got for us Jocelyn, and I hope it's a decent map, because this place is a maze. Literally, like, this makes no sense as a natural formation. Someone made this confusing on purpose." Liz's eyes moved around in wonder at the impossibility of the structure they had just entered. Hallways seemed to loop around themselves and strange glowing lights were seen all through the plants. A combination of weirdly luminescent bulbs and randomly placed skylights made strange contrasts as hard and soft shadows intersected. Leaves and vines formed crude doors over openings and the hallways had hundreds of offshoots. There was no way they would be able to find their way through this in an hour unless they had a map.
"I have it, let me pull it up. Okay, got it. Sixteenth door on the right is our first turn, and I'll keep calling things out. This is so cool, the code I update on my HUD actually is giving me a minimap, and I was able to load in Junior’s data on the area for this."
"It would be even better if you could share it with us, but I guess it’s better than nothing." Liz complained.
Jocelyn looked apologetic for a moment but it quickly turned into a look of contemplation. "Why not? This should work. I think. Maybe. Uh, I guess, pull up your HUD for something."
Liz complied and pulled up her ability list. She had stopped bothering to check it as not much had been changing. It was apparently almost impossible to increase a stat. Maybe her stats and skills were just too high. The only time she rememberd it happening was during the mana storm and she was pretty sure that it was some sort of admin cheat. Her thoughts were interrupted by a new item suddenly flashing in the corner of her vision.
[User Jocelyn wishes to share a module with you. Install UI MAP HACK module? Warning, this is not a system approved module and may be overwritten during next update]
Liz clicked on ‘Yes’ and after a few seconds a little line of text appeared in her vision. She selected the new "MAP" option and smiled.
"You are amazing Jocelyn. This is so cool, let's share it out. Can you add waypoints to it or anything?"
Jocelyn thought for a moment again. "No, not yet. It's really just a basic map, nothing special other than the things it's already doing. I could add it later I guess, but I have a pretty big backlog of things that I wanted to do. I'll add it to the list though."
She walked along the line, touching people's heads, and Liz saw a lot of smiles. Mazes were a lot less intimidating when you had a magical map to guide you. Everything went smoothly as people pulled up the map except for a brief outburst when she went to add the map to Elly.
"Biscuit likes maps too! Biscuit wants Jocy to head pet and make maps!"
"Uh, sure Biscuit, but not sure if this will work."
Jocelyn walked over to the friskey unicorn and touched its head. Biscuit frowned.
"Biscuit just hear screaming noises and sounds like rocks trying to eat howling wolves in explosions. Biscuit is very not happy at sounds. Jocy should stop." Biscuit stamped his foot in annoyance.
"Well, I guess that won't work then." Liz stated. Apparently the system was only for humans, but something about the system was certainly noticeable to magical creatures. Or something. More questions that needed answers.
Armed with maps, the group continued along following Jocelyn's instructions. Periodically a few golden apes would appear, but the stragglers and small packs were no match for the collective firepower of the group. Mark would open the volley with throwing knives and George would be right there with what looked like empowered baseballs. Liz would then path through any remaining stragglers and the things didn't even have time to be surprised before they would be wiped. In the few instances where the opposing group surived their alpha strike Mark’s glowing katana would slice them in half or George would smash one with his baseball bat.
Curiosity got the better of her when George demonstrated a dive tackle that had him flying over 10 feet to intercept an ape.
“George. Does your ability happen to be sports related?”
“Yeah! It’s awesome. I got Sportsball as a skill, and now I have Sportsball Arts as an ability. It totally rocks. I can like, do all my regular sports things and it totally has super powers and stuff.”
Jocelyn snorted at the ability’s name, but to Liz it was no joke. Obviously, someone on the design team was a little snarky but realized sports skills was probably one of the few things people would have developed in modern society and turned it into a weapon. Chalk one up in favor of a benevolent development team.
"This is going awesome. I'm just glad there aren't any traps along this path. That would be horrible." Mark stated happily.
Liz just stared at Mark with a look of death. Why did he always have to jinx them? At least he wasn't being as rash with combat now, so she should probably count her blessings. Regardless her eyes immediately darted around waiting for the ceiling to sprout spikes and collapse on them or the walls to start moving in to crush them.
"Liz, seriously, I just said I was glad there weren't any traps. Why do you always do that." Mark's speech was interrupted by a loud click as he stepped onto the verdant path in front of him.
"MARK" Liz screamed, but there nothing she could do.
"Oh my God! Chill! I stepped on a stick." He held up a broken twig that had fallen on the path in front of him. "It's like you expect the sky to fall every time I say anything remotely positive!"
Liz immediately looked up to see if the sky was falling, but mostly for the comedic relief. Everyone had a quick chuckle and it helped dispel some of the tension that was building.
"Sorry, just a little on edge, but you bring up a good point. I'm a little surprised that nothing has been trapped. It seems like the sort of this that this Pete guy would be into."
"I have an answer for that. The last dump of info I got from Junior said the paths to the consoles were actually filled with traps, but the route he gave me was supposed to avoid all that sort of thing.” Jocelyn filled the rest of the group in.
“Jocelyn, please let us know these things in advance. It’s really important information. Is there anything else we need to know?” Liz prodded.
“Well, I wasn’t sure about the other part of the message. It was a little garbled, Junior just sort of vomits words out.”
“Just let us have it. We can try to sort it out together.” Liz paused the group and made sure things were clear.
“Well, let me hook things up, I dunno about how much time we have but if you think it’s important.”
Liz thought through the options. If there was useful information there, taking a quick break would be worth it, but it seemed like they were making good time. A choice had to be made though. “I’m not sure if it is, but better safe than sorry. Let’s all have a look.”
Jocelyn pulled out the mirror and laptop and booted up her display. A few commands later and everyone gather around to read the message.
Hey got this thing working, and managed to pipe content from VIM over. Pretty cool, right? I totally am getting fired though if they see all this, but end of world, so whatever. So there’s another file here, data dump of the jungle biome admin dungeon. Sorry about your weird monsters and stuff. We were supposed to design out folklore related spawns but you ended up with Pete in charge of your area. Pete is totally obsessed with Pirates, so sorry about that too. You’ll know what I mean when you get to admin area. I can’t actually send info on the specific admin section, you have to get through that yourself. Mostly because Pete encrypted all his access codes and no one has his keys. But yeah, totally obsessed with Pirates, and he was totally like complaining all the time about how everyone was so unoriginal and made things that were sensical and felt like it was a personal challenge to make an area that didn’t conform to standards. He is totally a genius designer and made sure to follow all the rules but he was like no way going standard monsters and made up all this crazy stuff and now you have to deal with it so sorry about that. Check the path I sent, also separate file, couldn’t bundle in flat text, but should be clear of traps. Again, Pete, trap obsessed. Not mean though, just totally out of his mind with it. Okay this is it, I have to get the PR ready, please try to make it to console before surge storm, but as long as you’re there within an hour it should be fine. If you make it during overload though it makes everything easier to access since emergency protocols get enacted. Oh, last file, special cert that should let you into admin area, only good for today. You’ll need a way to interface the cert to the admin panel but should be similar to POST call on the config updates. Good luck.
Everyone stood around processing the information for a moment. Mark was the first to speak up.
“Uh, pirates?” Everyone looked around unsure of what that even would mean for them.
Liz shook her head clearing it of the useless thoughts that were now circulating it. “You know what Jocelyn, you were right, there’s not a whole lot here. I mean, maybe later we can go over it with a fine tooth comb to get more information about what’s going on in general, but the path you’re following should be good. We’ll keep on trucking and I guess when we get to the admin section we’ll figure out what he was talking about.”
The group resumed their trek and continued to make good time. A few scratches on Mark’s new armor were all the damage they took as they made their way through the winding corridors of the jungle dungeon. At this point people were pretty comfortable calling it what it was. There was no mistaking how the place was laid out, and it clearly was a set of mazes meant to discourage people from plumbing its depths. With the map, they would have been horribly lost.
Even with it, knowing that corridors should be places, it was hard for them to find the right path. More than once they were forced to search along walls holding their hands against it only to discover a clever trick of perspective was used to make a branching passage resemble a solid wall. If they had to worry about traps on top of all this they would have made zero forward progress.
In the downtimes Liz marveled at the abundance of life inside the dungeon. Plant-wise the place was amazing. She knew they would have to come back to try and harvest seeds for some of this stuff because glowing organic magic lights alone would be worth the trip. Rope-like vines, rubbery plants, and cotton looking fibers were all on display. All of these could really make a big impact for the camp. The monsters were a lot more boring. At least, as boring as giant apes that shouted and tried to kill you could be. They mostly just varied on size. She figured it must be like the wolves around the iceberg in their little lake, the dominant species for the area seemed to be pretty standard.
As they got deeper and deeper into the labyrinth the strength and size of the creatures increased. She wondered what it must be like inside the other places. The sent her mind to the zombie invasion they had escaped ahead of that she had managed to compartmentalize until this moment. The worry hit her like a physical blow and caused her to stagger. It was hard for her to sort through the sudden emotions. Mark noticed and walked over and held a hand out to steady her.
“You okay? What just happened.”
“Nothing, just a little dizzy.”
“You’re really not as good at lying as you think you are.”
Liz looked at Mark. She really didn’t want to derail him but she admitted she needed to talk this one out. “Fine. Zombies. I was worried about zombies, and suddenly it hit me that everyone could be dead.”
“See, this is why you need to talk to me. You don’t have to worry about it. Mom and Dad are there, and so are Lyon, and Margaret, and Eddie, and everyone else. They got it. They’ll be fine. In fact, they’ll be even better when we finish up whatever we’re doing here because Mom will be totally flipping out happy and we’ll have more info and stuffs.”
Liz looked sideways at Mark, “Are you sure you’re Mark, and not some doppleganger type creature?”
Mark hit her arm.
“Ok, ok, fine, but thanks, I guess I just needed to be reminded about that.”
“I get it. Right now, we just need to our part.”
Liz shook her head as Mark went back to take the lead. A moment later a large alpha ape charged them and he calmly rallied everyone. A few quick slashes later the ape was downed. Even though the monsters had been getting steadily stronger as they made their way into the interior, nothing had been able to stand against the group for long. The threat level of their group was somewhat off the charts and Liz found she barely needed to use her abilities as George and Mark made mincemeat of pretty much anything that got close.
“We’re almost there guys! Just around the corner! This is it. We made it!” an excited Jocelyn called out.
The entire group picked up their pace, just shy of running, as the excitement built. A half hour of navigating strange tunnels with apes jumping out at them had put them on edge and the idea of reaching their end destination was tantalizing. None of them could have expected what really awaited them when they finally made it to the admin section though.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Liz said, slack-jawed at the sight.
“He did apologize about Pete and the pirate thing.” Jocelyn noted in a confused voice.
In front of them, in gaudy themepark lettering, was a sign that read ‘Pirate Pete’s Admin Section’. An animatronic cartoon pirate, peg leg and all, stood at the entrance. Before anyone else could say anything a sea chanty started blaring through some speakers and the animatronic pirates mouth began to move.
“Ya’har me matey’s! Welcome to Pirate Pete’s Admin Adventure! I be seeing this is your first time here. Please present yer key and we’ll be lettin ye in. Otherwise, you scallywags be out o’ luck!”
“Out o’ luck! Out o’ luck! Tweet tweet!” confirmed the parrot on the pirate’s shoulder.
“Haha! Biscuit think this fun! Fun with Pete and Pirate adventures. Tweet Tweet!”
Everyone took a moment to collect themselves as Biscuit continued to tweet at the parrot, who then tweeted at Biscuit, who tweeted back at the parrot. They didn’t know what was coming next, but it was probably not going to help any of their sanity levels. She could feel herself losing brain cells just imagine what lay ahead. The world was ending and some dude somewhere used his near limitless powers to build a pirate theme park.