Melly and Thea huffed and puffed her way up the summit. Clemiticus followed skipping through the long grass singing some strange song about a ‘Safety dance’. The trio had been hiking for well over an hour. Melly smiled, the air was warm and dry, carrying the scent of salt on the wind. A valley of white sand lay before them. They had finally made it to the desert.
“Oh, damn,” Melly gasped, “remind me to keep putting my points into stamina when I level.”
Clemiticus nodded seriously, “Will do.”
It seemed the only thing Clemiticus took seriously was stat point allocation.
“How are you handling this, Thea?” Melly said turning to the young girl.
“Bloody combat players!” Thea swore. “Why can’t I get stat points when I level?” she whined.
Melly thought back to the day before. Clemiticus’ fairy had explained the quest in detail. It had said in its singsong voice:
“To break the curse of the sea you must obtain the Ocean Pearl from the catacombs of the Merfolk, then take the Ocean Pearl to the seas and cast it back into the salty depths.”
“The number of people who can enter the catacombs shall be the count of three. No more, no less. Three shall be the number of people and the number of people shall be three.”
Melly shook her head at the memory. The fairy’s squeaky voice still echoed in her mind.
In the end they all decided that the three people would be Clemiticus, Melly and Thea. The town planner might be useless in combat, but she knew the area and her participation was mandatory in the completion of the quest.
Derrick had not objected stating that he would take the two pets back to the ship and help Nuecus with his secret project.
“So, are we ready?” asked Clemiticus.
They all wore a solemn expression as they viewed the desert ahead.
Thea and Melly nodded. Then Clemiticus took his first step towards their new adventure.
“Clemiticus has entered the Coral Desert,” sung the blue fairy.
“Melly has entered the Coral Desert.”
Thea followed one step behind.
A green light flashed, and a deeper voice sang, “Thea has left the safe zone.”
“Thea has entered the Coral Desert. Warning PVE and PVP have been toggled on. If you wish to enter game mode: Combat, restart the game and play in combat mode.”
“You sure about this?” asked Clemiticus.
Thea nodded and walked a few steps ahead of them. “I’m confident that you two will keep me safe.”
An idea flashed into Melly’s mind. “Hey Clem!”
“You know that item you won when we ran around my hometown?” she asked.
Clemiticus’ eyebrows shot up. “Great idea!”
Thea looked confused as Clemiticus thrust his hand into his pants and pulled out a wooden shield with a large metallic cross guard.
“You might not be able to attack,” Melly supplied “but I’m fairly sure you should be able to block.”
Thea’s eyes sparkled as she took the shield. “Wow, it’s so steam punk!”
Clemiticus nodded. “Yeah, looks sick.”
“Won’t you need it though?” Thea asked.
Melly laughed, “He hasn’t yet. He’s too thick headed and too thick skinned to need it.”
“Plus, pirates don’t look cool with shields,” Clemiticus added.
Melly rolled her eyes. “Ok let me check it out.” She scooped up a loose stone and threw it at Thea who easily blocked.
The three of them looked up at the green fairy expectantly.
The green fairy shrugged.
“What’s your fairy’s name BTW?” Clemiticus asked. “I can’t see its name.”
“Oh, it’s Midori,” Thea answered. “What’s yours?”
“Fairy the fairy.”
Melly looked confused as the two ‘players’ nodded with approval.
“Can we like,” Melly spoke while gesturing towards the vast desert of death, “go now?”
“Sure!” they chorused.
The three then trudged over the hard white sand of the desert in silence. Melly was pleasantly surprised that the aptly named ‘Coral Desert’ was more coral and less desert.
“Apparently this whole place was once underwater,” Thea stated.
After fifteen minutes of walking, the path started to descend. Pools of saltwater pockmarked the ground in shallow depressions. Each held strange, bleached Coral that swayed with the wind. How can there still be water here? Melly wondered.
Melly found herself enjoying her little walk far more than she had thought. She looked over at the other two sweating and puffing. Even Clemiticus, the antihero of fitness, was struggling.
“You guys, ok?” she asked.
Clemiticus panted as he pulled out a waterskin. “So damn hot!”
“How aren’t you sweating?” Thea blurted as she looked at the unphased Melly.
“She must have a very high fire resistance stat,” he spoke through ragged breaths and handed Thea a second waterskin.
“Damn, must be nice,” Thea added.
Melly’s mood skyrocketed. Finally, it was her turn to be on top. For once she was happy to be on this ridiculous journey.
They moved further into the desert passing more rock pools. To their surprise the bleaching of the coral had all but ceased. The pools were left sparkling in the sun like speckled rainbows.
“We must be getting close,” Melly commented.
Thea gasped then said, “Nearly… There!”
Then finally they spotted it.
The entrance to the catacombs stood in a large depression in the land. It was perfectly square, cut from the sandstone of the sea floor. Facing them was the wide entrance to the dungeon. Outside two tremendous statues of Mermen stood guard, holding tridents that crossed over at the top.
They walked tentatively down towards the entrance. It was eerily quiet. The only sound came from their muffled footsteps and the crackling of a fire.
“I can smell smoke!” said Clemiticus.
Melly sniffed the air and nodded, “Me too. I think I can hear a fire coming from inside.”
“Same,” replied Thea.
“We ready to go in?” asked Clemiticus.
“I don’t see why not,” replied Thea as she hefted her new shield to her shoulder.
The three walked slowly down into the catacombs and entered a large room in which lay a lit brazier. It was a lot cooler under the shade of the building and Melly shivered.
Beside the brazier stood a massive stone door that had been sealed. From its centre protruded a large round button decorated with magical runes.
Clemiticus walked towards it nonchalantly and pushed the button without thinking.
“Wait, what are you…” Melly panicked.
The door rumbled and slid open to one side.
“What?” Clemiticus replied with a shrug.
Melly let out a deep sigh. “Go ahead, I’ll follow.”
“Clemiticus has entered the Merfolk Catacombs: Level One.”
“Melly has entered the Merfolk Catacombs: Level One.”
“Thea has entered a danger zone. Thea has entered the Merfolk Catacombs: Level One. Warning PVE and PVP have been toggled on. If you wish to enter game mode: Combat, restart the game and play in combat mode.”
“No turning back now,” commented Thea.
The green fairy shrugged and disappeared. Melly looked up to see Fairy poking its tongue out at Midori. The blue fairy looked all too unimpressed by its green counterpart.
“Good luck master!” Fairy cheered.
“Cheer’s bud!” replied Clemiticus with his usual thumbs up.
The three walked slowly down a long stone corridor. The light behind dwindled until they were left in utter darkness.
“Ouch,” complained Melly. “Someone stood on my foot.”
“Yep, that was me,” replied Clem “I can’t see a bloody...”
“Hey wait a tick!” Thea interrupted. She grabbed the two from behind and pulled them towards an opening in the wall.
“Oh wow,” murmured Melly.
There in the wall was a narrow passage lit by a sea of green and blue lights. They glowed from what looked like iridescent patches of moss. The trio ambled their way through the gap and into the passage, careful not to touch any of the glowing vegetation.
The further they travelled the more the moss grew and the more it illuminated their way. Soon outcroppings of coral that had their own colourful radiance sprouted out between the cracks in the walls and floors.
“Oh, so pretty!” remarked Thea.
Melly could see the outline of Clemiticus nodding and found herself agreeing. It was beautiful.
Further down, the passage became so bright that they had no difficulty seeing at all. The corridor opened onto a circular room with a pedestal in the middle. Above them were a series of stone pods that reflected the light of the glowing coral below.
Melly was about to walk into the room when Clemiticus held out a hand to stop her.
“Ok! Room number one,” he spoke looking at Thea.
She nodded in understanding and readied her shield.
Melly tensed as Clemiticus knelt to pick up a stray fallen piece of coral. He threw it into the room and drew his Pirate cutlass.
The coral landed in the middle of the floor, echoing with each bounce.
Melly frowned. “What was that…?”
“Shhh,” Thea interrupted.
Three pods on the roof cracked open and three figures fell to the ground.
“Reeeeeee!” The creature screamed.
“Oh my gods what’s that smell?” Melly cried.
The three creatures resembled fully bloated puffer fish with arms and legs. They wielded rusted swords and looked ready for a fight. Above their heads read the names:
Merkin warrior Level 15.
“AH! Ok good,” Clemiticus spoke confidently.
The fish creatures hadn’t noticed them yet. Melly fought back bile as the pungent smell of the disgusting creatures overwhelmed her.
She coughed “Why… Aren’t they attacking?” she asked the two players.
Thea pointed to the edge of the circular chamber. “We are outside the room which means we are outside the aggro range.”
Clemiticus grinned. “That means we have plenty of time to plan our attack.”
“Awesome free EXP!” he added.
“Ok,” Thea looked serious. “What’s the battle Strat?”
“Hmmm…” he mused. “Ah I know, how about I aggro and use my luck stat to Tank while you find projectiles for Melly to throw at them?”
“Great plan!” she answered eagerly.
Melly looked at Thea. How the hell did she get all that? she thought bitterly.
Within seconds Clemiticus leapt into the room and started yelling at the sea creatures.
“Hey! Merkin! You smell like ass!” Clemiticus yelled.
The Merkin warriors roared in anger and chased the swashbuckling loon. As promised his luck stat provided the best kind of defence.
Thea let out a bark of laughter as she watched the crazy man wriggle out of harm’s way again and again. It looked like the kind of dance that drunks perfect and the sober lament.
“Oh shoot,” she berated herself and went to gather broken coral for Melly.
Melly plunged her hand into her pack and pulled out her potato. She eyed her target and threw it at the closest warrior. It was a direct hit.
“Melly has forcefully slaughtered a Merkin warrior.”
“Clemiticus and Melly have gained combat experience.”
“Nice!” Thea cheered and handed Melly a piece of coral.
Melly shrugged and threw the colourful projectile at the next warrior.
A red number flashed above the Merkins head:
“That only took out five percent!” Clemiticus shouted through improvised dance moves. “Keep going.”
Melly took the next piece and threw once more.
She threw piece after piece until the next Merkin warriors health only had ten percent left.
Swoosh! Critical strike.
Fairy’s voice rang out through the chamber. “Melly has killed a Merkin warrior!”
“Clemiticus and Melly have gained combat experience.”
“GG!” cheered Clemiticus. “How long’s the cool down on your potato?”