"Tell me stinky ones, where did you last see the monster?" Leonard asked, baring his gleaming fangs again in what was either a smile or a snarl.
Before Dave could reply a notification popped up in his view.
Addendum to [The Hunt is On!]
Your choice of which Unique creature to aid has not yet been made.
Caution: Depending on what is communicated, providing information to Leonard could be considered aiding the Pridestalker in his hunt to kill Kurukuru the Mantid.
"I got this," Dave told the other players over the party chat. Heeding the system message, Dave thought quickly and chose his words carefully to answer Leonard.
"We were being chased by mantis but lost it at the chasm. We destroyed the bridge after we crossed over so the mantis couldn't follow us."
Dave just prayed the were-thing couldn't detect that he'd chosen not to divulge more critical information. Thankfully none of the other Players volunteered anything to the Pridestalker.
"Hmm, very well. I will go there and resume my hunt." But despite what Leonard just said he moved closer to the group of Players, angling toward Dave in graceful feline strides.
Dave froze, the were-thing was just suddenly within touching distance of Spike.
"A fine ride you have here." The Pridestalker reached out to pat Spike's withers with his broad hand-paw, the curved ripping claws all too evident.
The forest fiend was frothing at the mouth, snorting and shaking in fear. Dave himself could barely restrain the urge to run screaming from the were-thing. He knew fleeing prey just excited predators more, that terrifying thought helped him control the urge to run.
"Too bad the beast is tame, it would have made a fine addition to my collection, ha-ha-ha!" The beastkin's laugh was nasty, it implied fear and pain for whatever or whoever inspired it.
Leonard turned away from the Players and stalked toward the forest. At the tree line he paused and looked back. He raised his leonine head and inhaled through his broad nostrils, scenting the air.
"Perhaps we will meet again when you yourselves become worthy prey."
With that last dickish maybe-threat, the lion turned and walked into the forest. His form literally faded away, growing transparent until he disappeared entirely.
Dave wondered if the asshole had a wine cellar and ate liver with fava beans. He shook his terror off and breathed as he carefully inspected his surroundings, he doubted the hunter was truly gone.
Flanker opened his mouth to say something but Dave peremptorily gestured at him to keep quiet.
"This is not the time or place for talk. Everyone use the party chat from now on. Let's get out of here."
They followed Dave going back in the direction they came from, they would have to find a way around the bramble patch. He didn't think it was going to be easy the razor-thorned vines had grown as far as he could see in the area where they'd met the lion-man..
"Why did you lie? Why didn't you tell the fur kitty everything?" Demeri asked heatedly through the party chat.
"I don't trust were-things. And I didn't lie, I just didn't tell the whole truth, there's a difference."
"He's beastkin, not a were," Perfect joined in.
"Same difference, they're all creepy!"
Perfect sighed, "Dude, that's not a good enough reason to antagonize the very scary and VERY OP monster-lion."
"You guys want reasons? Okay. First, the item Mr. Lion face offered is trash. Sure, it's high-level, but it's only good in the Wilds.
"Second, the bug's reward, [Isolate], would add significant damage to our attack Skills. It's the much better reward, that's why I think we should choose to help the bug."
There were startled exclamations and protests over the party chat. No one liked the 'bug' and several someones, who would remain anonymous to protect the innocent, even expressed a decided preference for helping the 'fur kitty, squeeee' since it was only a game after all and it didn't REALLY matter which monster won.
"But why help a nasty BUG when you could help the furry soft-kitty!" Demeri was the most persistently opposed to choosing the mantis.
"I don't care how 'furry' or 'soft' the were-thing is, he is not our friend," Dave said sharply.
"Everyone keep your eyes to the front, Don't look around when I tell you this next part: There is a Mark on Spike where Leonard touched him. If I wasn't paying attention I would have missed it. That's reason three to side with bug-face over the were-monster.
"I got the description when I inspected the Mark. I just shared it with everyone, take a look."
Mark: Lure Concoction (Weretiger)
The Pridestalker Leonard is a ferocious and experienced hunter. When he learned that the prey he was hunting especially enjoyed feasting on weretigers, Leonard made a concoction from weretiger liver to attract the mantis.
There was a brief shocked silence on the party chat.
Flanker broke the hush, "I don't get it. So what?"
Perfect snarled, "It's not hard man, do the math. Lion-o is using us as bait to lure in the mantis."
"Oh," Flanker nodded, "Got it. Bastard. I vote we help the bug."
"What's the plan, Dave?" Ralph asked over the party chat.
"Let's just get out of the area and back on track toward the tomb," Dave said.
"Skelly, let's just wash the Mark off Spike and get away from both of these Unique assholes," Flanker said.
"If we do that, the were-thing will know we are on to him. I don't think he's the type to give up any advantage. Let's just play along for now, let his evil were-ness think we are suckers."
Flanker shuddered and looked around nervously, afraid of being ambushed by a black and gold cat-dude or a flying green bug-monster. He was just too squishy for all this ambush and charging into danger crap. He was a priest dammit, a sensitive and cultured magic-user, not some ham-handed brute. He was meant to hide behind big crunchy tanks and grace 'those types' with his munificent buffs and heals.
Backtracking, they reached the chasm and stopped at the foot of the bridge. Thankfully, there was no sign to indicate the mantis was still there.
Dave looked at Perfect, "You're the man now, dawg. Use your ranger Skills to find us a way past those thorn vines."
"Let's follow the chasm, maybe I can find a path through the brambles," Perfect said after looking around and staring into the distance, obviously doing something with his interface.
"Lead the way," Dave said.
They followed Perfect single file the chasm edge on one side and the forest of blood-red forest trees on the other.
After travelling a good distance, Perfect finally slowed, looking intently into the forest.
"This might be a way through, no brambles as far as I can sense. Follow me," Perfect said. The ranger guided his centaur to turn into the forest and the others followed.
They went through dozens of miles in the Wilds without meeting any monsters.
Shortly after daylight broke Tess spoke through the chat, "The timer for the centaur summons is almost up, let's dismount here."
When they stopped, Dave checked the time, it was late evening IRL. His growling stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten anything since morning.
"Let's take a break and get some food since we're stopping anyway," Dave said.
But when they tried to log out they got a notification.
In the Deep wilds, you can only log out if you are in a camp.
Be aware, your idle avatar will remain in the Wilds when you log out.
If your avatars are killed by monsters, you will be sent to your last respawn point.
"What the flying fuck is this?!" Dave said.
"Now what do we do?" Flanker whined.
"No biggie. I have a tent in my inventory. I'll set it up, then we can log out," Perfect said.
"Cool. But I think someone should stay in-game to guard the avatars and let us know if we need to log back in for any reason," Dave said.
"Who's going to stay?" Ralph asked.
"Should we draw lots?" Demeri said.
Surprisingly, Flanker answered, "Nah, I'll stay, I need to do my prayers, so I'll be ready for the big event at the tomb."
"I didn't think you were the pious type, not with that name at least," Ralph grinned.
"I'm not, but I'm trying to get my next class quest. I have to do daily prayers for a month straight. You guys won't be out for long though, right?" Flanker asked.
"Nah, a thirty minute break for food and necessities. That's an hour and a half to you in-game. Just call if anything happens," Dave said.
Dave spoke the next instruction out loud, winking at Flanker, "Oh, and Flanker, if you're staying, you might as well give Spike a good cleaning. He's starting to stink."
Spike heard Dave call him stinky and grumbled discontentedly.
The pervert priest understood Dave's meaning. Even if the Pridestalker was watching and listening, Flanker now had a legitimate reason to wash the fiend, hopefully destroying the tracking mark.
After Perfect set up the tent and got a notification that a camp had been established, the players were able to log out.
Dave climbed out of his capsule and stretched. His muscles were tight from the inactivity of being in the pod all day. He crossed the hall and knocked on the door to the other suite.
"Let's get some chow and check out some babes!" Ralph said when he opened the door.
"We can't bro, we gotta stay here in case we need to get back to the game on short notice."
Ralph's face fell but he was soon grinning again, his enthusiasm for everything was irrepressible. "That's true. I guess it's room service for us again. How about pizza?"
"I never say no to pizza. Extra pepperoni, extra cheese and beer."
Ralph nodded, "Ah,I see you're a man of culture as well."
The beer and pizza arrived quickly and they set to with a will.
"I don't think anyone has gotten as far as we are into the Wilds," Ralph mused as he chewed messily, completely unselfconscious about his atrocious table manners.
Dave nodded, "Well, I don't know how he did it but that one Player made it all the way to the Eastern kingdom. Beer me."
Ralph handed Dave a beer then popped open one of his own and took a long swig.
"Yeah, I don't know how he did it either. Anyways, I'm behind on my leveling. We've been running all day, so I didn't get a chance to grind." Ralph complained.
He was stuffing another slice of pizza slice into his mouth and chewing. He could almost fit an entire slice in one go. Dave was completely envious of the ability.
"Sorry about that bro, I'll make it up to you."
Dave chugged his beer and let out a long echoing belch.
"When the Undead Legion is revived and I get my Boyz back I'll bring you down to the Underworld. We'll grind to our hearts' content. Easy EXP, bro."
"I'll hold you to that mate," Ralph opened another beer and raised it in a toast, "To easy EXP and the rise of the Undead Legion!"
"To the Legion!" Dave toasted back as they clinked their beers.
Soon there was only one pizza slice left. The two looked at each other through narrowed eyes, there was one rule when it came to pizza: the last slice belonged to the quickest hand.
And just like every other time, when the smoke cleared, the final slice was in Ralph's hand. At least the part of it that hadn't already been devoured.
"Damn it," Dave scowled.
"Ha! You're slower than an arthritic grandma," Ralph took another huge bite, exaggerating his enjoyment, even making moaning sounds as he chewed.
Dave chuckled and started cleaning the table. Suddenly, their phones beeped at the same time. It was Flanker.
"What happened? Is the mantis back?" Dave asked without waiting for the priest to say anything.
Flanker's reply was panicky, "No, but you gotta log in quick. I'm surrounded by many, many tiny...oh shit they have rope-"
And he was gone, cut off.
"Dafuck was that? Log in!" Dave yelled as he rushed back to his pod.
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