After two minutes of deathly silence, I was finally able to shake loose from her penetrating gaze and look away. I felt like I’d just spectacularly failed a test in front of the whole school, my family, every crush I’d ever had, and all of my personal heroes while naked. The reactions of most of the faces nearby only reinforced that notion. Many of them were pointing. A few of them were laughing. Most of them just looked disgusted.
Cedra tapped her foot impatiently until Georgius whispered something in her ear. Her face relaxed from “about to eat me alive” to “probably still going to eat me alive but with a less pointy fork.”
“I hate repeating myself but somebody forgot to remind me that you couldn’t hear me since you aren’t in our raid,” Cedra said. “I would like to congratulate you on figuring out how to avoid that sub-boss’s special attack after I did. No one else in our raid noticed that, not even my two lieutenants. It was probably a lucky guess, but I would like to see if you can figure out anything useful about the next boss, as well.”
Cedra has invited you to a raid!
Do you accept?
Yes or No?
I stared at the invite in shock. Cedra had always struck me as arrogant and oblivious to the accomplishments and contributions of anyone not named “Cedra.” I should have known better. It would have been nearly impossible for a guild to accomplish as much as the Knights had with someone that bad leading them.
While I wasn’t exactly her biggest fan, being invited to a raid from one of the top guilds in the game was not only a huge honor for a nobody like me, it might have also been a potential way to get in as full member someday. Georgius and Noradine had seemed like fairly likeable people and Yary would probably get an invite soon too. There was no surer way to guarantee yourself the chance for fast levelling and wealth than getting into a guild. Besides, if I couldn’t deal with Cedra, I could always quit. People who quit top-level guilds on good terms were almost assured of getting an invite with one of the other guilds. Recruiting each other’s members was almost a second game to them. I was about to hit accept when someone cleared her throat behind me.
I turned around to find Alizia staring at me.
“I . . . ahh, can’t accept unless you invite my group too,” I said. “Sorry.”
Most of the raid exploded into an array of motions that I would have described as “raucous laughter” if there had been any sounds whatsoever to accompany them. It was both confusing and insulting. (I was also insulted that I wasn’t sure why I was confused and confused on why I was insulted, too.)
Georgius mercifully broke the silence. “When someone invites you to a raid, it’s for your whole group. The raid leader invites a group leader and the group leader accepts on behalf of everyone in their group.”
“Ahh.” A quick glance back at Alizia and Olaf received enthusiastic confirmation.
Cedra loudly cleared her throat. “Any day now.”
“Sorry.” I hastily accepted her group invite.
Suddenly nearly everyone in the room’s HP, MP, and AP bars grew bigger, brighter, and began displaying whole numbers instead of percentages. When I finally overcame the huge amount of new information, I noticed three rather sullen individuals off to the side including the wood elf who’d tried to make a run for it. One of the mages in the raid created a glowing blue portal in front of them and they marched into it to disappear. The last one made an obscene gesture at Cedra and quickly scurried through the portal when she turned her head in his direction.
The raid leader, Cedra, has moved Yary and Georgius into your group.
“Now that the dead weight has been removed, let us go over the plan,” Cedra said in raid chat.
“This is a new boss, right?” I said to Georgius in group chat. “Then, how can she possibly have a plan for this?”
“It’s new all right,” Georgius said. “Pretty exciting. Been almost a year since a new raid boss was found. We don’t have a specific plan. She’s just going to go over a bunch of the more common boss scenarios, like stay out of the lava, run behind a large object if it charges up to do an AE, backup tanks should take on any adds that pop, need to pee on any tanks that get stung, etc.”
My mouth hung open at the last one, and he let out a loud laugh. Cedra stopped talking and glared at him. He ducked behind a forest giant and she continued her speech.
“Sorry, couldn’t resist making up the last one,” Georgius said in group chat. “My advice for you guys is to just hang toward the back, and when she shouts out an order, listen to it. With this being a new boss and the group being mostly recruits, we’ll probably wipe the first time anyway.”
“Does everyone have that?” Cedra asked.
“We are Knights! Feel our boots. Feel our steel. Then, feel no more!” everyone else in the raid responded in unison.
“Great, now Tunk at the front and then we follow in the same order as before,” Cedra said. “Once again, Georgius, Noradine, and I will not participate, unless it gets desperate. We’re here to judge everyone’s individual performance for the possibility of inviting you as members of the greatest guild in the entire game.”
I reached over to put my hands over Alizia’s mouth but found Georgius and Yary’s hands already there. Olaf nearly fell over from trying to reach up, too.
“Jerks,” Alizia said in group chat. “I was only going to ask one question—Neat! I can still talk in group chat even with your hands blocking my beautiful mouth. Why doesn’t that work for raid chat?”
“Because Cedra just muted everyone in raid chat but her temporarily,” Yary said. “She always does this when she’s giving out pre-fight instructions.”
“Then why could our group hear her before the Ms. Beatly fight?” Alizia asked.
“She only started using raid chat when she remembered we had outsiders,” Yary said. “She did it earlier when a lowbie group started following us around.”
Georgius pushed Alizia forward with a big smirk on his face and then pushed Olaf and me (though a lot more gently). “Go! It’s amazing you guys get anything done with all this talking. Almost everyone is already through.”
Olaf snorted from the other room.
Alizia summoned her shield and shook it at Georgius. “Shouldn’t you be coming too, Lieutenant Pompadour?”
“Lesson one about raiding: if you’re not a healer or the main tank, worry about yourself first, second, and third. The other guys come fifth after worrying about the boss. I’m not participating. Now, go!”
Yary gave Alizia a hard push and she finally squeezed through the door. I, however, hesitated. Alizia’s large shield and tall body were in front of me, so I couldn’t see what was going on. I could hear what was going on though and it was terrifying.
The constant group chat had dulled all of the other sounds, so this was my first real chance to hear what was going on. I’d assumed I’d hear the sounds of explosions, screams, blades crashing together, and the zap of magic—all terrifying things—but what I heard was much worse. Silence. Did the boss cast mute on everybody? Is everyone already dead? Or is he so overwhelmingly terrifying that he’s rendered everyone speechless? Maybe, he—
“Hey! I have one of those back on earth,” Alizia said.
I should have known better. Nothing can render Alizia speechless.
Curiosity overcame my terror and I peeked around her shield. No one was dead. Tunk, Nibble, and Murderwinkle had arrayed themselves in a circle with the rest of the raid spread out behind them. The three tanks remained on guard but did not advance on the table or its lone occupant in front of them. The odd man in shiny multi-colored armor slowly raised a dainty teacup to his mouth and just as slowly set it down. When he finished wiping his mouth, he set the napkin down, folded it into a shape, and gave a long, contented sigh. Opposite him was a second teacup suspended in midair.
“Tunk, engage him now, while he’s still distracted,” Murderwinkle said.
Tunk scratched his helmet with his sword. “Why ya tryin’ to get me killed? That fellow’s a level—well, too high for my Inspect to reckon what he is. No point in you tryin’ to make me look bad neither. You’re already in.”
“Well, do something,” Murderwinkle said.
Alizia pointed at Tunk and let out a loud laugh, giving Tunk at least one idea of what to do. I stepped in between them before he changed targets.
“Clewd, where’s the boss?” I asked.
Clewd stood up with immediate recognition in his eyes. “Excellent. My stars have finally arrived. Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting?”
“Drat. I was really hoping you did. Completely forgot my watch back home. And the previous owner of this place, the Mad Shuffler? Baddington Pear? Whatever his name was, he didn’t put up a single clock. Terrible decorator. I was about to suggest several improvements but then he up and left mumbling something about a demotion.”
Olaf cleared his throat for the fifth time and Clewd finally noticed him. “My word! It’s you.” He turned to me. “Why didn’t you tell me he was here, Lucas?”
“He’s always with me,” I said. “We’re in a permanent group—How do you know my real name anyway?”
“Don’t answer that yet, please,” Olaf said. “We have come all this way, sir, because you have some information we need. Do you know—”
“Clewd!” Cedra pushed through the raid. “What did I tell you the last time I saw you?”
“That only I can prevent forest fires,” Clewd said. “Never understood why everyone else gets to start all the forest fires they want, but I’m expected to be the responsible one. However, you’re the boss, so I have been sure to prevent all the forest fires I’ve encountered while inside this cavern and am proud to say that not one tree has caught fire the whole time.” He saluted Cedra crisply. “Now is there anything else I can do for you? Say no to drugs? Record a comedy rap album? Teach you a few dance moves that’ll be sure to impress all the fellas?”
Cedra growled and put her finger in his chest. Clewd gave her his usual stupid grin.
“No,” Cedra said. “What I told you was that I never wanted to see you within 100 miles of any of my raids again. Now get out!” She gave him a hard shove, but Clewd didn’t budge.
“Hmm . . . While your opinion does matter to me, I have already promised someone else that I’d stay here,” Clewd said. “How about I do your thing next time?”
Georgius hastily rushed forward. “Mr. Clewd, sir—”
“Please, Mr. Clewd wasn’t my father. Call me Mr. Clewd.”
“Right. So, Mr. Clewd, we were wondering if you’d happen to know what the new boss that’s supposed to be here is like? Also, where is he? Or she? Or it?”
“All excellent questions, Greg. And as it would happen, I do know exactly what the boss is like and where he is.” Clewd winked at Georgius.
“Could you tell us?” Georgius asked to Clewd.
“I could,” Clewd said.
“Would you?” He caught the glint in Clewd’s eye and hastily reframed his question. “What is the boss like? You know special attacks, damage types, etc. And where he is currently?”
“I’m sorry, but I swore I wouldn’t. Client/patient/doctor/carpenter confidentiality. “You’re going to have to figure that out yourself, while I film your epic struggle.” Clewd summoned a tripod with a telescope on it.” Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to setup before the fun starts.”
Cedra used the distraction to get behind Clewd and examine the contents of the table. She held up his teacup and tipped it over. “If there was a boss nearby that he was conversing with, I’m quite sure that this loon would have poured him a cup too. Not the best evidence, but my gut is telling me that there was never anyone else here. I think that somehow, our ‘Mr.’ Clewd has become the boss of this dungeon.” She pointed at Tunk. “You’re on.”
“Am I the only one who thinks she’s lost all her marbles?” Alizia asked in group chat.
“Not all of them, anyway,” Olaf said. “What she said does not make any sense to me either.”
“I think the actual boss has something to do with that second tea cup floating in the air behind Clewd,” I said.
Yary’s eyes lit up as she saw the second cup for the first time.
“Cedra’s done this before,” Georgius said. “She’ll make up a logic impaired argument to cover for what she really wants. Something that she knows no one will go for. I think she’s finally had enough of Clewd ruining our raids and wants to get him out of here.”
“Well, as someone who’s only met this loon briefly, yet had the crap annoyed out of her by him, I’d sign up for smacking him around until he goes away,” Alizia said.
“We need to stop this,” I said. “For Olaf.”
Alizia frowned. “Fine, but when you get what you need, I’m going piñata on him.”
“I’ll talk to Cedra,” Georgius said.
Unfortunately, he was too late. Tunk let out a massive yell that shook the cavern. “I Shout at you, you boss player guy.”
Clewd wheeled around, his eyes opening wide. “You! I’ve been looking for you for almost as long as Lucas and Greg here . . . By the way, who are you?”
“I’m Tunk and I’m here to give you a big bump. I Shout at you again!”
A large, round object appeared in Clewd’s hand. “There’s no need for that, my good man. I can hear you just fine.”
Cedra let out a disgusted sigh and pushed Tunk forward. Despite Tunk’s bold and exceptionally loud words, with the way he had been shaking and inching back, I didn’t think Cedra’s push would do any good. To my surprise, he propelled forward like she’d stuck a rocket on his back. At first, I assumed she’d put some sort of buff on him, but when I didn’t see any new icons float over his head, I realized it was something else. He’d probably just needed a reminder of what was at stake and who was watching him.
I winced a second before the charging pile of metal and muscle collided with the confused and bewildered man. The crash was deafening. In a blink, Tunk was splattered on the floor twenty-feet away in the opposite side of the cavern. He let out a pitiful moan. Three heals landed on him simultaneously, though he’d only taken about 30 damage.
Clewd scratched his head at Tunk and shrugged. “Hmm. Not sure how you got all the way over there, but since you’re sitting down, how do you take your eggs?” Clewd flipped the flat, metal object over in his hand to reveal a skillet with two eggs sizzling in its center. I wasn’t sure how they had been staying on it, or how it was cooking them with no heat source.
Cedra pointed at Nibble, but he was already moving.
“Cedra, stop this!” Georgius rushed forward to intervene.
Cedra spun around and growled at him. “I will not let your soft-heartedness get in our way again, Georgius. Sure, it hurts players a little to die, but it’s not like it kills them for real or anything. Besides, it’s good to let others know that there’s a price to pay for getting in our way.”
Olaf appeared next to Cedra and tugged on the bottom of her breastplate. “Please, I just need to talk to him. My son went missing in the game over a year ago and he’s the only person I’ve been able to find who knows anything about his whereabouts.”
“Cedra have a heart and let him speak to Clewd,” Georgius said. “Please.”
Cedra glared at Olaf as she peeled his hand off her armor like it was covered in filth. “You don’t get to be a top guild leader by having one of those, but just this once, I’ll let you have your way.” She stared down at Olaf. “You have two minutes. Then, we attack regardless of whether you’re done or not.”
Olaf darted around her. “Thank you. I am forever in your d—”
“Kiyaaa!” A braid of red hair and a fist flew past Olaf. A second later, the entire cavern shook from a deep voice. I think I was the only one who noticed the second tea cup crash to the ground.
“YOU THINK THAT HURT ME? I’LL SHOW YOU WHAT HURTS!”