"FUCKKKKKK! Bugger, wank, shit! Bloody fucking HELLLLLL!!"
The stream of profanity resounded from the walls of the apartment in the eastern suburbs of New York City. The unbroken litany of blasphemous utterances had started minutes ago.
The man paced the floors of his apartment like a raging lion, glaring at the innocent game-capsule from which he had emerged in his present towering state of rage. Adding more fuel to his anger, he could not return to the game for the next 24 hours of real-time.
The man was Warlord, head of the most powerful Guild in the world of Conquest, the Devastators; one of five top ranked players in the game, a level 432 warrior.
Warlord, who had just been disgraced and brought low, defeated in personal combat at the hands of a trash level 100 draugr.
It was the ultimate humiliation.
He could have accepted that if he had succeeded in capturing the zone flag, taking possession of the new zone of the expansion for the Devastators. But he didn't get the flag. The loss of real-world revenue and in-game gains was incalculable. The guild's money-people, their business partners and majority stockholders, were going to shit megatons of heavy bricks when they heard about his failure. They would want to put the blame and fault on someone. Warlord would become a scapegoat, disgraced and painted in shame if he allowed it.
They needed to figure out how to handle the truck-load of manure that would soon be dumped all over them. Not that Warlord denied he was responsible for the cock-up. At least to himself. But guild politics were cutthroat and unforgiving, he couldn't afford any bad PR.
Warlord grabbed his phone and punched at a contact.
The developers at Conquest anticipated the need for communication between the real and virtual worlds and included functionality for it. Multiple apps that provided In-and-Out calling, IMing and PMing of all were available with the release of Conquest.
Warlord heard the other end accept the call. Without waiting he barked out, "Valentine, status?"
Immersed Players experienced a slight lag during calls to the real world because the perception of time is accelerated in-game.
Valentine answered, his voice ragged and fatigued.
"We're about to be overrun. What happened, why are you calling from Outside?"
"Just do what you can to pull back and keep as many Devastators alive as you can."
"We're buggered, there's nowhere to retreat to, Warlord. The Undead are pouring in from every direction and every tunnel." Valentine's labored breath was audible over the speaker interspersed with grunts of effort.
Warlord heard a final gasp and then silence.
A moment later Valentine's voice returned, much less stressed. "It's over, I just died. You said you're on respawn?"
"Yes, I'm IRL. Waiting for the respawn timer to rundown. Fucking respawn delay, I really want to kill some shit right now!" Warlord's initial reply was curt but his voice grew louder as his ire at the game-pod returned.
"But I saw you entering the Temple. What happened with the draugr, man?"
"Oh, I killed the Draugr alright. Then the fucker popped right back up behind me and one-shotted me with some demon-bogart Skill. I'm more than two hundred levels above that bone-geek and he still ganked me like a newbie punk!" Warlord winced, his own words too similar to the grinning skull's parting insult.
"Send me your feed, I want to see those Skills!" Valentine demanded. He was the tactical and strategic brains behind their success.
Warlord's rage returned, "Dammit, If I'd just grabbed the flag as soon as I killed the draugr we wouldn't be in this shit situation. That FUCKING DRAUG-"
"It's just a setback, Warlord," Valentine interrupted, "There is a silver lining her-"
"What is it you think is not fucked-up about this whole pile of shit, Val?!" Warlord counter-interrupted his friend.
"The zone is still there, Warlord. It doesn't belong to any Player faction. It's there and we just have to make it happen."
Warlord's face blanked for a second, "Oh shit, you're right. The golden fruit is still on the tree!"
Valentine continued in a smug voice, "Also, Blood-Rage and Heaven's Dawn both wiped before we did. Poor fellows, they got less than nothing from our little jaunt to the Underworld. We still have a valid contract with them. In return for granting them access to the Underworld this time, the contract guarantees us full and unlimited access to the Red Monastery dungeon and the Bristle Mines for two months. Regardless of what the outcomes are in the Underworld."
Warlord chuckled in satisfaction, "Heh, Okay. So at least we got a little Sumthin' Sumthin' out of this cluster fuck." With visible effort the guildmaster forced the last of his temper down and turned his attention to his duties.
"Tell the A and B Players guarding the zone-portal to go ahead and enter the Underworld. We don't control it, but they can still explore and farm some mats and EXP."
"No can do, Warlord. The underworld is closed to all of us now."
"Yeah, I just got a message from the guys in the Dark Threading dungeon at the zone entrance. They said the portal closed up and won't open. But remember, the system announcement said the Underworld can be accessed from different locations in Conquest. We just need to find them."
"Damn. Alright, organize the search for other entrances. Also, repost the bounty on the draugr. I want his fucking head. Post a bounty on his Archer bitch, she's on my shit-list too. She can tell us how to get that smug skull fucker."
"Consider it done. I need to go and start spinning this Underworld tarfu, and make it stick so we are bulletproof by the time the board meets again." said Valentine
"Thanks, Val." Warlord ended the call and logged in to his computer to check the finance pages.
Sure enough the news was already out. The ticker showed publicly traded Devastators securities on a slight downward trend. The securities for Blood Rage and Heaven's Dawn were doing the same.
"That damned draugr is even affecting the securities exchange," he mumbled to himself.
He switched to a Conquest forum. An eye catching banner scrolled across the main page.
[Trending Now on Conquest!!! See What Everyone is Talking About!!! In-Game Content Trending Now!!! 100 Million Views!!! Conquest Video Goes Viral!!!]
Warlord clicked on the banner to see what was going on, "Huh, posted less than an hour ago. A hundred million hits. I wonder if that's some kind of record."
The beginning of the video was timestamped just after the Expansion Pack. It was from the Elven Archer's POV, the first bit was in fast-forward, showing a group of Undead coming into sight as she neared the Dark Threading dungeon. The Archer teamed up with the Undead, and they hunted panthers together near the dungeon.
The vid slowed to normal speed as the group entered the Dark Threading dungeon.
Mr. Skeletal stealthed down the Dungeon's stairs and ambushed two players. His skull-skill pushed the two Players into the path of the charging Boar. The Boar tossed the two unlucky Player past the ledge to fall into the dark chasm.
"Ruthless, but smart," Warlord shrugged. He would have done the same thing.
The feed continued, showing the group's encounters with werewolves, then they reached the bottom of the stairs and the unusual boss lair, with the huge sealed doorway.
Warlord sat up. This was what he wanted to see, how the way to the Underworld was opened.
Disappointingly, the video skipped that part.
"Bah!" he spat, disappointed, "Should've known it wasn't going to be that easy."
Onscreen, the draugr had pulled the Archer with him as he jumped through the gate and began falling. Now the draugr was desperately grabbing her hand as the fell through the darkness.
Warlord leaned in toward the screen cocking an ear toward the speakers. He started laughing uproariously. Mr. Skeletal, the big bad draugr, the Smirking Menace, was screaming as he fell. He sounded like a terrified little girl.
Warlord laughed the entire time. Finally, his day was looking up.
Next the video showed dArcher and Skeletal, speaking to Ramsha.
"They probably got the same 'slay demons' quest he gave to every player that reached the Underworld."
Then two more Players appeared. It was the two unfortunates who were thrown into the chasm earlier. They had respawned and caught up to the group. The Draugr and the elf ran from them, toward the Level-checker demon.
"They're still just lowbies there, neither of them at the century mark. The Undead minions were left up top. So how are they going to get past this beast of a checker?"
Warlord watched intently as Mr. Skeletal summoned two ghost knights to bait the demon-checker while the elven archer blink-stepped to the safety of the cave. Then came the draugr's desperate run finally making it to the cave, just as the pursuing Players crossed into the Level-Checker's aggro-zone
Warlord shook his head when the draugr stopped just inside the cave mouth and turned to watch the Players. "Waiting to see if your enemies get past the Level-Checker? You should put more points in your Wisdom stat, Mr. Skeletal."
The pursuing Players advanced through the demon checker's zone, moving in flawless sync and timing to to confuse the checker demon, the Agro-Swap tactic.
Warlord grinned, he and Val had used that one plenty of times. Those were the days. Such fun, no one to answer to, no burden of responsibilities interfering with the pure enjoyment of it all.
"These two are not bad at all. We should promote them to the main guild."
The pair were halfway through the demon's zone when the draugr's mouth curved into a malicious smirk and he snapped his fingers.
The explosion staggered the player nearest the cave and the Level-Checker immediately one-shot the unlucky warrior with a double fireball, fulfilling its function. One person cannot do an Agro-Swap. Without a dance partner, the second Player was crushed only a moments after the first.
Warlord took note of the draugr still smiling in evil joy, "Cunning, pragmatic. Ice in his veins. Impressive. Petty tricks might work against players, but they don't work on bosses. How did they manage to take down the raid-boss Dalmadoth?"
The video showed the two leaving the safe area, entering the Underworld through the cave.
Seconds after exiting the cave and setting foot on the desolate soil a horde of Demonic-Rams was charging down on them.
The Elf retreated, yelling at the draugr standing nonchalantly in the path of a herd of giant demon rams.
The skeletal figure raised a hand displaying a glowing blue gem.
It shone brighter, the intensity growing to eye-watering levels. When it blinked out there was a tear in space hanging in front of the draugr. From the other side of the tear, behemoth sized hands grasped the edges of the tear and pulled it wide open. A Player's nightmare stepped through.
Warlord was floored, "Bugger me! He has a boss-monster for a pet!"
He watched the thing effortlessly demolish a herd of high level demon monsters.
"Its a level 550 juggernaut. This explains the raid-boss, that giant could take on the entire Devastator guild no problem. How many times can Skeletal summon it? But it has to have limits."
Warlord calmed himself and continued watching.
Though parts of the video were obviously edited out, the rest of it showed the monster carrying the two Players across the plains and wading through the lake toward the mountain. Most of the conversation between the two Players was censored out. They entered the caves under the mountain, where the creature proceeded to mow down the high level mobs like a hedge trimmer cutting weeds. The two players sucked up EXP like kids in a candy store on a free-all-you-can-eat day.
"Hmm, the magma river portion was edited out. I wonder why, we didn't find anything useful there.."
The players then came to the arena, and fought wave upon wave of enemies, until the boss finally returned to fight Skeletal's summoned creature.
The fight continued until a group of Devastators exited the tunnel, and walked into the arena. The members of the new group were aggressive, but their individual prowess was subpar and they made no effort to compensate with team tactics.
"Oh, yeah. I forgot about these asshats. I'll remind Val to make an example of them, expel the worst and bust the rest of them down to scut duty."
The Draugr dodged an attack from a monster, and the Devastators Hunter attacked it an stole its agro.
Warlord snorted in contempt, he didn't suffer fools gladly. He'd make sure the Devastators didn't either.
Because of that guild member's foolish attack, the entire group was forced into the fight. When the rest of the Devastators were well inside the zone-boss' aggro-limit it activated [Call to Arms], summoning monsters to equal the number of Devastators. The players died quickly.
Soon after the demise of the Devastators the zone-boss dueled with the draugr's summoned boss-monster and was eventually defeated.
Warlord voiced what he had already begun to suspect, "He used a boss to fight a boss. It was all just luck and circumstance."
Warlord was relieved to be done with the uncertainty surrounding the series of debacles. The video explained everything. Including how a low-level draugr hijacked control of the Underworld territory, snatching it from the hands of all three of the largest guilds in Conquest.
Warlord was far from happy, but things were making sense again. These two upstarts had rocked EVERYONE'S boat. But, in all likelihood they had no idea how many problems they had caused or the consequent political and economic upheaval within the Conquest system both in Conquest and IRL.
Regardless, the miscreants would be reminded of their place in the world, hammered back down just like any nail that stands up.
Warlord turned his attention to guild matters, diligently working from his computer. But, despite his iron self-disciplined and focus he soon found himself shifting restlessly, mind wandering from the boring guild minutiae in front of him. A nagging doubt persisted, gnawing away his renewed confidence.
He could not stop wondering: If the the string of fateful events were only due to outrageous luck and the game-breaking aegis of a summoned boss-monster...how was the draugr able to kill Warlord?
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