I stood in the portal room saying a tiny prayer that the portal potty of shame wasn’t occupied. I cast a furtive glance at the kids behind me and took a deep breath. Then took a step forward.
The portal potty was empty. It also appeared to have been cleaned overnight. I opened the door and stepped out into the light. Anna’s voice echoed around me in voice chat, “Is it safe?”
“Yup”, I replied, waving to the rest of the party that was already gathered.
Syren smiled warmly in greeting, “Good afternoon. Are you ready to save your wife?”
I returned the smile and nodded while the portal potty flashed several times, discharging the kids one at a time. Syren’s faeries pranced with the kids while the rest of us tried to figure out the best way to get to Drilux. Ranker pointed out, “That’s at least a day's march to the south.”
I shook my head, motioning to the east, “When we make it to the river, I can take out one of the boats. We can make it downriver in a couple of hours.”
“What about the airship”, Tygris asked, eyeing me curiously.
I had considered deploying Destiny’s Hand. The problem was a lack of fuel. While I did have some liquid mana left, I was saving it for something a little more urgent. Theresa assured me that I could take my time on this quest. I informed the anxious Tygris, “No airship ride this time. Need to save gas. I don’t know when I will come across more.”
At least someone was excited about sailing down the river. Abigail raced aboard and cast her line before we even pushed off. I assumed the expert angler had already fished in the Celestea River, but that didn’t stop her going again. I leaned against the rail beside her and asked, “Are there any surprises for you down there, or have you already caught everything in this river?”
Abigail tapped her forehead, causing a pulse to echo out through the water. Once she got the feedback she was looking for she explained, “Fishing in ELO is unlike any other game. Like real life, you can catch anything. There are things you wouldn’t expect down there. I might catch an old boot, or snag a helmet that some adventurer dropped or tossed into the river. Occasionally I hook a monster and have to fight or run away from it. It’s impossible to say if I’ve caught everything because the river is always flowing. Always changing. Something I caught yesterday might never swim these waters again and the most beautiful and exotic fish ever found could be swimming under the boat right now. It's all a matter of chance.”
I was curious about the pulse she just sent out, so I asked, “What was that thing you just did?”
She stopped to gape at me for a moment before laughing, “Out of all the amazing things I just told you, that is the thing you’re curious about? That was just a class skill. It’s kind of like fish radar. When I use it I get a special map that shows me what’s in the water. I can detect large objects on the riverbed and fish locations. I can’t tell what I see, but I get an idea of how big it is and where it is in the river.”
I watched Abigail fish as we sailed. There was a lot more to it than just cast and wait. She constantly nursed the line, dragging it back and forth. When she wasn’t satisfied with her position, she would pull the hook up and make adjustments. She alternated between different weights and baits depending on how deep she wanted to fish and what type of fish she was after. Different buckets around Abigail housed the various fish she caught.
Anna and the twins set up on the bow of the boat, engaged in a card battle tournament. Apparently, the faeries also had decks and added to their numbers. Their master and her husband disappeared once again, probably below deck doing unspeakable things to one another. That left Tygris. She was at the helm steering the boat.
I walked over to her and said, “It’s only a matter of time until you ask me for a boat of your own, isn’t it?”
She grinned at me as she nudged the wheel slightly to the left, “I was actually thinking I’d just take this one.”
Fortunately for me, she didn’t try to claim the airship. We were sailing down the river in one of the boats I made for Barney. The boat was special. Barney allowed me to borrow them, but it was marked as untradable. I couldn’t give it to the girl if I wanted to. I explained it to her and apologized, “Don’t worry. I’ll make you a boat of your own. It’s good practice for me.”
She groaned and hugged the wheel, “Aw, I really like this one. Are you sure there isn’t anything you can do?”
I shrugged and told her, “I don’t know. You could talk to Barney. He is probably going to ask you to polish his duck collection though.”
“Excuse me?”, she growled, eyebrows raised, “What exactly does that mean?”
I laughed, “Not what you think it does. He’s an old carpenter who likes wooden ducks. Nothing perverted about it. Well, not in the traditional sense.”
She snorted at me and resumed steering the boat. I decided it was time to do something I always wanted to do and strung up my hammock to enjoy a nice nap while we continued the journey.
“Wake up, we’re here”, Ranker announced with a huge grin on his face.
I yawned, stretching out in the hammock. The cool breeze blowing in off of the river combined with the warmth of the sun to make a quick nap in a hammock into the ultimate relaxation. I was enjoying it at a pro-level too. I had turned up the additional sensations slider all the way up to 300%.
I slowly scanned the horizon on the western shore looking for a castle. I asked Ranker, “How do you know where we are? I don’t see any landmarks.”
The paladin leaned on the hammock, neatly causing me to flop out of it, and shared his map with me. He pointed at a tiny blip on the river, “That’s us. This red dot over here is supposed to be the ancient city of Drilux. At least that’s where your son said it was.”
“Good enough for me”, I replied, hopping from the hammock.
I lowered the gangplank and made my way to shore. The others quickly followed except for Pakku and Pyxie who flew below deck singing taunts, “We are off to discover proof of master’s favorite hobby.”
The other echoed, “Most joyful shameful proof. Yes indeed.”
Syren shrieked and started to run back up the gang plate, but I grabbed her arm, “Don’t do it.”
She swiped at me and attempted to pull away, “No. Don’t you dare try to stop me. This is the last straw.”
I didn’t bother to explain. I opened my bag and selected the boat, dropping it in my inventory. The caravel vanished, leaving two faeries standing in my air. They seemed to have stopped flying in the boat and forgot to use their wings when it vanished. With a pair of wet plops, they both plummeted into the river.
“No fair”, Pakku sputtered as it’s head bobbed in the water.
Pyxie spat out a mouthful of water like a tiny pixie fountain, “The rules of faerie play have been broken. Expect revenge, glorious revenge.”
Syren relaxed in my hand and called to the two faeries, “Hurry up if you’re coming along you two. We’re going on a quest. If you want to play around in the water, you’ll have to stay behind.”
Her voice made the two splash around as they climbed all over each other trying to get out of the river. They didn’t even try to fly with their wet wings. Syren winked at me, “You can let me go now.”
I turned my attention from the faeries to Syren. She was blushing and looking down at her hand which I was still holding. I returned her look sheepishly and let her go, “Right, sorry about that.”
Having a map that tracked our progress with the destination marked made finding Drilux easy. As the castle loomed in the distance, “I turned to the rest of the group and asked, “What am I looking at?”
We all squinted at the hive that was nestled comfortably between the castle walls. Tygris rubbed her chin and suggested, “If I didn’t know better, I would say that’s a gigantic beehive.”
We were a little closer when Niklas shook his head, “Those aren’t bees. Those are wasps.”
We made our way up to the main entrance cautiously. The wasps swarmed when we got too close, threatening to attack if we approached. We skirted the outside walls, looking for another way in. The wasps attacked us in packs of two to three at a time whenever we got too close.
The outside wasps were no match for our group. They were significantly lower level than we were. Syren immediately began singing before the first wasp made it to us. Ranker also activated his skill, drawing the attention of the pack. Niklas clasped his hands and muttered a spell, causing the shadows on the ground to bubble. The wasps sunk to the ground, drawn by the added gravity from the shadows.
I decided that it was still too early for KAT to make her debut, so I took out the staff instead. The weapon felt significantly more comfortable in my hands than it had the last time I wielded it. Upgrading my skill from beginner to intermediate made a huge difference. It was like taking several years of martial arts training. I twirled the weapon in one hand, not deploying the blades.
Once I was confident that I had control over my weapon, I lunged toward the rear wasp and thrust the butt of the weapon at it. It collided with the wasp’s head with a satisfying crunch.
Anna shouted from my left, “Good one. You seem to be getting the hang of that thing.”
I turned my head to see Anna summon a card, adding her experience bonus buff to the group. Abigail had summoned a swordfish that was attempting to stab the wasp with it’s bill.
We cleared our way through one of the side entrances to the castle without much effort. Inside, we discovered a series of tunnels leading deeper into the hive. Ranker took off his helmet to look around, asking, “Where to now boss?”
The place had the look and feel of a dungeon. It didn’t announce itself as one though. It could be something spawned by Theresa’s epic questline. Or my quest for that matter. I pointed to the section of the hive with the most wasps, “We need to get to the heart of this place. We should follow the wasps.”
Clearing the overcrowded tiny caved with our group was a challenge. We had to maneuver in a single file line which meant whoever was in front had to do most of the fighting. For the most part, this meant Ranker. We alternated by sending in summons from both Anna and Abigail, but their pets were not built to absorb damage and died quickly.
Niklas was in his element. The dimly lit caves cast shadows everywhere, and where there was a shadow, there was a way for the [Shadowmancer’s] magic to deal damage. Rayely, on the other hand, was completely useless indoors. [Celestial Mages] required a sky or at least a high ceiling to summon things to drop on the monster’s heads.
Tygris played the role of healer, shooting darts at Ranker’s flank while he took sting after sting from the wasps. He grumbled over his shoulder while slamming his shield into a wasp’s head, “You know. I really hate your healing. Healing is supposed to feel good. Instead, I get shot after shot. Why did you pick that class? I hate needles.”
The [Field Medic] giggled at him, “I know. I consider it a perk of the job.”
Syren playfully slapped the woman in the shoulder, “Hey. Torturing him is my job.”
We started to run into trouble as we made our way forward. The cave passed by a series of forks and we agroed wasps from multiple directions at once.
“Adds”, Syren screamed, bumping into me from behind as she tried to back away from an angry wasp.
Being closest to the rear, I pulled Syren behind me and brought my staff to bear on the wasp. Jamming the butt of the weapon into the insect's thorax, I thumbed the button calling for the thunder blade to come out. I was rewarded with a splash of warm ichor as the creature split open like butter.
I was still gagging on the mouthful of wasp juice when another took it’s place. Hearing more buzzing coming from the other cave behind me, I turned to discover I was surrounded by another wasp.
Ranker, who was still fighting through a group of wasps at the other end of the group, shouted, “Are you okay back there, Kendra?”
Anna answered before I could, “I’ll help out.”
She summoned a tiny green dragon that waddled over to wasps behind me, breathing a spark of fire. I returned my attention to the wasp in front of me that appeared to be much wearier of my staff than the first one had been. It dodged my thrusts and retaliated with its massive stinger. This must be where they got the saying ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’.
Anna yelped behind me, “Dragon down. I need a second before I can summon another one.”
I turned just in time to dive out of the way of a second stinger that wanted to violate me from behind. The two wasps crashed into one another, buying me a moment before squaring up to face me again.
“KAT”, I bellowed, pulling the new automaton out of my bag”, I need you now.”
“It’s about time”, a metallic feminine voice echoed through the cave as the robot appeared beside me.
I had barely staggered to my feet when KAT brushed past me, knocking me aside. Syren, the closest one to me, knelt to help me back up and asked, “What the hell is that thing?”
KAT buried a metallic claw into the first wasp before delivering a hammer first into the second one, dropping both monsters in a single flowing attack. She replied, “Hello, I am KAT, short for, Killer Attack Titan. Pleased to make your acquaintance. For the record, I identify as a she, not a ‘that thing’.”
More wasps entered the cave and KAT turned to engage. With the added tank covering the rear of the group, we quickly handled the waves of insects.
The path we chose led to the heart of the castle. We emerged in a dark spacious cavern. Ranker went first, calling over his shoulder, “Keep your eyes open guys. This place could be filled with monsters.”
Niklas tentatively entered the cave, touching a shadow on the floor, “I don’t think so. Nothing can hide from me in the dark. There's only one monster in this chamber. I think the wasps we just killed came from here.”
Tygris followed closely behind Ranker, brandishing her dart gun, “We need to hurry then. Those wasps might respawn in here and I don’t want to still be here when they do. We will have to fight them all at once in a room this size.”
“Let’s go take out this boss then”, I suggested, striding past Ranker deeper into the darkness.
The ‘boss’ turned out to be a humanoid wasp. She had yellow skin with black stripes, very large cleavage, and a wicked-looking gnarled stinger sticking out of her voluptuous backside.
Ranker gaped at the boss and said, “Wow.”
Syren kicked him in the leg, her boot making a resounding ‘CLANG’ sound on the metal of his armor. She winced and cried out, “Ow.”
Ranker chuckled and whispered, “Serves you right for kicking me, honey.”
“You are so going to pay for that later”, his wife promised solemnly.
I examined the boss.
Seemed easy enough. I leveled my staff at the boss and was just debating which blade to summon when all hell broke loose.
“Revenge”, Pakku screamed in a maniacal voice as he races through the chamber trailing what seemed like every living wasp in the hive.
“Sweet sweet revenge”, Pyxie mirrored, whizzing by in the other direction being chased by a very angry-looking herd of sheep.
We stood across from Bzzzt who for her sake looking just as confused as we were.