Roberts rebuke had me spinning to face the expected onslaught of the stablekeeper but instead he was just standing where he had been, imperiously with hands on hip and whip laying behind him. His small body puffed up in pride and arrogance, his jagged teeth leering in a lopsided grin.
The blood pulsed through my body. The sound of my heart thumping so loudly it should have drowned out everything in the room, but I could still hear my family breathing quickly. We were paused in a nearly silent tableau. My family behind me, prepared to cast spells or heal, me in front with weapon and shield held ready, and the goblin stablekeeper was standing there seeming unconcerned with the force arrayed against him.
All my news instincts screamed to rush forward and attack, and everything told me that I needed to place my body between the enemy and my party. My anger and pain and frustration agreed, saying that this was a wall I could drive myself against and so burn away my pain and fear with the fires of violence. But I held myself back. I resisted my urges. I mastered my instincts and my anger, and I looked.
I looked for traps. I looked for new surprises, and I looked at my opponent. I watched for the twitch of muscle that said he was preparing to strike. I scanned over his form for the subtle shift of stance that said he was cradling an injury, I stared him in the eyes and watched for the sign of an opening.
And I found it.
When it came to me, all the anger I had been holding in, at the world and my own mistakes, urged me to scream forward and cleave the goblin in two. I had never tasted bile in anger before, but I did then. It made no sense, it shouldn’t have triggered such rage, but it did.
The goblin was sweating. He was afraid and bluffing.
I couldn’t sweat. It was refused to me in this new world. I would assume that in a similar situation I might be able to sweat as well, but under the normal circumstances of exercise, it wouldn’t come. Sweating wasn’t even a good thing; it was unpleasant and smelly and only tolerated as the price of the freedom of movement and adventure. But it had been denied to me in this world, and now this goblin had it, and I raged in my heart because of it. The illogic of it never even occurred to me, but it told me what I could do about it. I could kill this creature. I could hurt it, and so, provide some relief to the injustice the world had done to me.
“It’s sweating in fear,” I growled.
Two beats of my heart. One. Two. That was the entire delay between my words before we collectively lunged at the stablekeeper.
I had done more than speak at that moment. I had used my taunt skill to force the disdain I felt into my words. The goblin cracked his arm forward driving the whip towards me as I charged, my shield catching the side of the whip before the tassel at the end, which does the actual damage, could crack. To my surprise, the end of the whip was impregnated with fish hooks. Only a couple of the little pinpricks of metal penetrated, the red threes and fours barely registering to my new scale of pain. The debuff as the goblin heaved backward and tore the hooks free was new.
|Debuff - Muck’s Draining Bleed
Bleed damage increases over time.
10% of Bleed damage heals Muck.
May only affect one target.
If anyone should be the target of this debuff, it should be me. But this meant we had a deadline. The longer the fight took, the worse the damage would be and the more it would heal Muck. The whip’s initial damage was almost insignificant, even Emma or Annie would be able to weather its blow, but the debuff was another story.
The goblins heave had lurched my charge to the side for a moment, but it hadn’t broken it. While it was off balance from its attack, I slammed my oversized blade down on the goblins head aiming for a stun.
“We have to kill him as fast as possible. Use everything!” I screamed, hoping my family had noticed my debuff and its danger.
Triggering my offensive stance, I began to follow the bold lines of violence in my mind.
I had no time to focus on making my reasoning clear. It took all I could do to dodge the stablekeeper’s blows as I pushed my attacks. He never used his whip in close range while fighting me except in using the handle like a bruiser’s billy club, but he was an expert in its use. Contrary to what I had expected of a whip user, he refused to let me attack with the full length of my weapon. Each time I stepped aside or moved to bring the middle or tip of my weapon closer, he would step in and strike at my forearm or even block with his arms directly.
Each of my blows was cutting into the leather arm guards the goblin wore, the thin bar of metal hidden under the cover nicking and pinging at each of my blows. After a few strikes, the goblin started taking minor damage from each of his blocks. Though he took damage, each blocked blow opened me up to his counter-attack; a kick, or a strike to the wrist, and even once my armpit. My shield mitigated most of his attacks, the left side of my body effectively a plate of metal that he couldn’t strike through, but he tried to counter this by continually turning to my right side leaving me almost spinning around him as he steadily advanced.
His life was plummeting, and his damage was minimal, but his whip debuff and the corresponding life transfer buff on him was growing, and soon we would see the tide shift. Just as I felt small pricks of sweat form on my brow, the irony bright and shining in my mind even through the haze of combat, the goblin stablekeeper was drilled through by a white-hot ribbon of fire.
The flash of the fire was not bright enough to disrupt my vision, thanks to the limits of player on player effects, but the fist-sized hole drilled through the shoulder of the goblin dropped his life to below twenty percent. Crippled, burning, and blinded debuffs all flashed up above the goblin bosses head, though the blinded debuff lasted for only moments before it faded.
“I used my scarves' effect, but I missed his head,” Annie said.
Somehow Annie was able to make the pout audible in her voice. The sound of my sister pouting because she failed to drill a white-hot flame through a monsters head and only managed to hit his shoulder suddenly rung out in my mind. This sentence drilled home for me that just as I had changed, so had everyone else. The world was new, the rules had changed, and we were not as we were and never would be again.
I let my existential thoughts flicker past, my motions never hesitating even as my epiphany rode my mind, as I followed the brilliant lines and the blows my offensive stance offered. When the bosses eyes flickered to my sister and his arm bunched in preparation to strike Annie with his whip, the hate reduction of her scarves effect not capable of overriding the sheer damage she caused, I took a note from the goblin stablekeeper and prepared to strike.
As the monster's arm drew back and he shifted his stance to aim for my sister I dropped my arm down and then raised my blade in time with his movement. At the apex of his arms retreat to begin his swing, the edge of my blade met his armpit, and the critical drove it through, up, and out.
With his weapon arm gone and his second arm crippled from my sister's lance of flame, the stablekeeper more resembled a practice dummy than an enemy. Almost every strike became a critical and his dodging was clumsy and off balanced. Only the fact that he was a boss and had a large amount of health had him lasting for even a few minutes more.
Glancing at my log, I frowned upon seeing that I was still level seven, though my status screen said I was but a breath from level eight. Since everyone else trailed me in experience, none of them had leveled either. Trying to take the goblin’s whip, I frowned when I was unable to grasp it. I had expected it, but I had hoped otherwise. Such a weapon while distasteful would have been immensely useful against slow enemies with large amounts of life. I couldn’t imagine there would be many such creatures, but I wouldn’t find such an advantage against them unseemly.
After everyone had healed up, Robert having spent much of his mana keeping me healed towards the end of the fight, I rushed to the newly appeared treasure chest. Even as I tried to get to it first, Annie, giggling, reached it first. When she reached for the chest, and only one arm won the race to touch it her giggles faded. The lack of pain from her amputation was a mixed blessing; seeing her realize her amputation after forgetting caused a different pain entirely. But her quickly straightening shoulders said that she would carry through.
The skin on the back of my neck crawled at the sight of her actions. Not because they seemed disingenuous, but because they didn’t. Annie had never had this kind of resilience before. She had never been able to recover from the blows of the world this easily. My sister had inner strength, but she bent with the winds of the world and endured and remained miserable inside. Now she was like a reed that bent and rebounded, refusing to conform to the shape pressed upon her. This was more of the new worlds subtle mind control, and it was both useful and sickening.
When Annie opened the chest, a new window appeared with two options, and by the movement and distant gaze of my family, they had a similar window.
|Select Final Boss Reward.
Four Rare items or one Heroic item?
Vote Tally: 0 / 4
The word Rare was in a dark red script while Heroic was in a shimmering golden text. It seemed reasonable to assume that the Heroic item was better than the four Rare items, but four items together would do more for us as a team than anyone item alone could offer. When I voiced my opinion, I was surprised to find that Emma agreed with me, but Robert and Annie opposed!
“With my scarf, I was able to make a huge contribution to that fight, with your ring you were able to take on that Worg, a single Heroic item will make a bigger difference than anything else,” Annie argued.
Robert mostly agreed, a single major item could have a considerable effect. My ring without the effect, with its stats spread over four items wouldn’t be nearly as effective as just the one item with the effect.
“The same goes with your shield and Emma’s stick thing, the effects matter. It’s like the debuff’s during fights, they can turn the tide more than just the damage alone,” Robert said as he paced around.
During our discussion, he had remained standing, and now pacing, even as the rest of us had decided to lounge in a circle to debate. The shift in our behaviors, less aggressive for me and more so for Robert stood out to me at this moment. We weren’t in combat, my class instincts didn’t push me one way or another, and I assumed the same for Robert, leaving him to return to his normal leadership position in our group. The shift was jarring to me only because I had been watching for further mind control effects, and this appeared to be the cessation of one. Our classes didn’t apply to this situation, and so we could do as we liked, no hints and subtle nudges enforced as such Robert returned to his normal mode and the rest of us to ours. Robert was by no means overbearing in our group, but by the nature of society, even our lovable and sensitive Robert was more domineering of the group's direction and focused in discussion than any of the ladies.
I straightened from my slight slump and rolled petulant shoulders. I was a part of this group, and if I wanted to argue my position, I could, the world had changed, and I would embrace the parts of it I liked. I wasn’t the only one to hold this view.
Emma dropped her polite smile and looked Robert in the eye as she responded, her voice only wobbling slightly as she spoke, “We should be fair, everyone should get an item, we all did this together.”
Robert opened his mouth to reply as he turned to pace across in the other direction.
“Emma, I think they are right. A single better item really will help more. It might be different with a group of other people, but for us, it will all help us to have one much stronger item then four weaker ones,” I said.
Robert’s mouth closed, but he had a slightly bewildered look as if he was happy that he had won the argument but not how he had won it. I stifled a grin at the confusion and made sure he saw none of it, but the twinkle in Emma’s eye said she had seen Robert's look.
“Good, so, it’s decided. The single Heroic item then,” Robert said, though not as confidently as he had before.
Emma shrugged and voted in agreement with the majority making it unanimous.
From the chest, we could hear a thump as a new item dropped into the bottom, though there was nowhere from which the item could appear. Another impossibility in a world full of impossibilities. Emma rose gracefully and passed Robert with a hand trailing along his chest and a smile, while Annie and I passed giggling. By Robert’s confused look he had no clue why we were laughing, but he knew we were laughing at him.
When Emma reached into the chest, she pulled free what appeared to be an exact duplicate of my own blade, down to the nicks and scratches, the only difference was that it had a subtle glow and tiny sparks that occasionally drifted along the edge of the blade. With difficulty, she levered up the sword and passed it over to me where I gripped it by my left hand and pulled the blade up and out of her hands. Unequipping my old blade to free up my hands I looked at its apparently improved doppelganger.
|Goblin Straight Razor - Heroic
Effect: Has a chance to induce Goblin Straight Razor Bleed effect (Stacking 3) on strike.
Trigger Effect: Once every 15 minutes, All Goblin Straight Razor Bleed effects exchanged for Goblin’s Infected Wound Effect (stack 3).
With a squeal I spun around while holding my new weapon like a doll, cuddling the large blade against my cheek. Both Annie and Emma smiled, but Robert rolled his eyes at my display, though his lip curled just a little as he turned away.