Twenty five players cautiously entered the cave leading into the the mountain depths.
The Devastators party were ragged and tired, and showed signs of recent hard-fought battle. They had lost a number of players to respawn crossing the corrosive lake waters. Players that were not able to rejoin the party.
A colorfully decked out player moved up next to the tall Devastator that was leading the group.
"Hey boss, what's the plan?"
The heavy-plate armored tank, Blaster, answered the outlandish player patiently, "We're going to move forward cautiously, Mongo. We can't afford to lose any more players. We're down to only one healer...not to mention one Beast-tamer." Blaster turned to look pointedly at the other player.
Beast-tamers, the main pet-summoning class of the game, were known for their eccentric habits and proclivities. Those eccentricities, both real and imagined, were often the subject of jokes by other players.
But even for a Beast-tamer Mongo was odd. Instead of regular armor, Mongo wore animal pelts with clashing colors and patterns. Claws, fangs, and the odd skull or two adorned his eye-watering ensemble.
Blaster continued, "And since we are talking about it, I need you to send one of your pets to scout ahead for us.".
Mongol answered, "Aww, boss, I don't wanna lose my last pet. Not before the others come off cooldown and I can re-summon them."
"I get that, but at least your pets can respawn. We can't, not here in the Underworld. Do it," Blaster ordered again.
Grumbling, the Beast-tamer summoned a vaporous ghost-wolf.
The ghostly canid touched his spectral muzzle to Mongo's hand in ritual greeting, and then loped down the tunnel in response to the Beast-master's orders.
The ghost-wolf returned shortly.
"Garm says there's nothing dangerous ahead," Mongo reported his pet's findings.
"Alright. Everyone stay in formation. Move in!" said Blaster.
The players quickly realized that the cave was lit by gems. The precious stones adorning the walls of the cave sparkled in their eyes, matching the greed in their hearts.
One of the players rushed over to a wall, a pickaxe appeared from his inventory and he swung the tool into the stone around one of the glowing diamonds. The pickaxe rebounded with a shower of sparks and a disappointing clang.
"Damn, I'm a high level Miner. I should be able to mine these. What's the deal?" said the Miner dejectedly.
"There's bound to be other stuff. Let's just move faster. This is virgin territory. The only reason we aren't drowning in good loot is we're moving too damn slow."," a Dwarf player complained.
"Rodrigue is right, let's keep moving," urged Mongo.
"No, we need to keep moving slow and careful, checking for traps as we go," said Blaster
"We won't get anything that way. I bet the other groups are rolling in loot!" Rodrigue complained.
"I'm not about to let anyone else get sent for respawn by rushing ahead blind and careless. Guild Ops organized the groups.. If you don't like following orders, you can discuss that, and the chain of command, with the head of Ops when we get back. I'm sure Mr. Valentine will be very receptive to your complaints."
"Hell with it, Didrik had more balls than you do. Hells, it was you that got him killed back at the lake. I'm not following a coward anywhere. Not anymore. Guys, this green-horn is just here for himself. He got everyone killed back at the lake, and now he's trying to keep us from doing what we came to do."
Blaster's face was red with anger, "Didrik ordered us to chase after the water serpents. Didrik and the rest would still be with us if we had made for shore instead of trying to fight monsters from row-boats.
"Didrik ignored my advice. I disagreed with him, but I still followed his orders! I fought, risking respawn and expulsion from this raid, just like everyone else."
"I didn't see you'se doin' any support'n, all I seen was you'se runnin' away...green-horn," said a gruff-voiced Orc.
"Guys, let's take off." Rodrigue cajoled his buddies, "Come with me and I guarantee we will get amazing loot. Stay with this loser and you're going to miss out. I heard a group that went farther into the underworld fought some big-ass monsters, farmed tons of EXP and got epic loot. They even dropped some of those Runes."
Blaster wasn't going to keep explaining the same thing over and over to deaf ears.
"I can't make anyone stay if they choose to leave. So let's just get this over with. Who's staying with the guild party and who wants to strike out on their own?"
Blaster didn't believe anyone would follow a hot-head like Rodrigue, especially based on twisted truths and unconfirmed gossip. He was wrong.
Twenty players shuffled out and gathered around the Dwarf.
"See Blaster, people know a real leader when they see him. You, on the other hand, just want to play it safe," Rodrigue gloated with his chest puffed up.
"See ya back at the hall, losers!"
The mutineers moved down the tunnel rapidly, leaving Blaster, Mongol, and three other players who didn't look sure they had made the right choice.
"God damn it," cursed Blaster.
"You should PM Ops to report and get orders," said Mongol.
"The top-brass are preparing to fight off an invasion, this isn't important enough for their attention right now. We'll just keep going, slow and steady. Don't touch anything before we check for traps and hidden tunnels."
"Okay boss," said Mongol.
The five players moved forward slowly.
Blaster hated being in charge. No one wanted to lead people that questioned every decision and ignored all reason and common sense. He was just trying to finish the mission and keep everyone safe at the same time. But they wanted fame and recognition, screw the mission. And their own safety.
Blaster was checking a conspicuous stalactite that might be a deadfall when Mongo spoke up.
"Ah, jeez, Rivera just bought it," Mongo swore.
"What?" asked Blaster
"Your HUD, man. The Priest, Rivera, he just died."
Blaster looked at the party status window in his HUD and saw the gray icon of a dead party member.
"There goes another one! Their health-bars are decreasing fast, they must be in a tough fight,"
"A group of turtle-like creatures is attacking the party; level 350 and up," said the archer. He had two fingers to his temple, in communication with one of the mutineers.
"We help them. Move!" said Blaster. The group went from a slow cautious advance to a full sprint.
In less than a minute they entered a small cavern finding the rest of their group in the middle of a serious scrum.
"Fuck off! We got this, it's our loot!" shouted Rodrigue.
Blaster didn't have time to argue with the idiot.
Blaster charged in, unleashing a devastating [Piercing-Blow] with his giant two-handed sword.
A surge of concussive force discharged from his sword, rocking and staggering the demon shell-back. The respite gave the Dwarf the opportunity to scurry behind his taller team-mates to escape from the turtle-snake's attention.
"Archers! Hang back, melees Tank the mob! Rotate out the guys with low HP to heal up, then rejoin the fight." Blaster charged in doing everything he could to increase his threat level and take the aggro from the other players.But nothing worked. Either he just didn't have enough damage for the monster to take note of him, or...
"No point trying to leech agro, it has a random-target skill!" The Orc's HP was in the red.
Blaster called the shot, "Everyone Nuke the bastard! Use everything you have to bring it down now!"
Every player, regardless of their health status, channeled the strongest skill in their arsenal. The skills lit-off with multiple flashes of colored light, bombarding the monster with damage and effects, a Hail Mary play.
The monster activated an attack skill and Power-Rolled, aiming for the ranged players in the backline.
The archers triggered their dodge and movement skills, shooting continuously at the rolling doom, finally killing the monster.
Blaster rounded on Rodrigue, "This is what happens when you split the party!"
"We didn't need your help. We were handling it just fine," said the Dwarf stubbornly.
"You got seven players killed. You all would have died before you brought that thing down," shouted Blaster.
"Well we didn't die. And we got some loot. But the drop-rate is terrible. Aren't monsters supposed to drop their best loot on a first kill? We only got a rune. Seems shitty to me," the Dwarf complained.
"You should have called us when you first sighted the monsters, what if there were more than three? We can't afford to make mistakes like this!" said Blaster.
"Alright, everyone just chill," the Orc spoke up, "We got it. We need to stay together. Blaster is one of the highest leveled players here, we need his DPS."
"Whatever," Rodrigue grunted.
The party advanced until they came to a river of magma with a bridge crossing it.
"Let's take it slow, this is obviously a perfect place for an ambush," said Blaster approaching the river, oblivious to the danger hiding beneath the molten-rock flow.
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