Darwin looked over at the Blue-Drakes. He wanted to bring them all into the fight, but half of him was uncertain it was the best idea. Minx had managed to kill the first target of hers without issue, and he had managed to kill most of the Drakes in a few seconds each. He didn’t know exactly how EXP splitting worked, but he knew that if he brought every single one of the Drakes with him, he would be shorted a lot of EXP. Therefore, not wanting to divide his EXP 20 or 30 ways when 8 was enough, one for each member and one for their mounts, he decided he needed to figure out exactly how many he needed to bring and how many he could leave to farm respawns like he had done several times before with the Turtle-Wolves in the old silver ore mine. He probably also needed to . . .Daniel and them!
“Guys, we got a problem,” Darwin flatly announced to the group. “If Daniel and them show up while we’re mid dungeon, whatever Blue-Drakes we leave at the entrance are going to probably be butchered before they realize they are friendly.”
“Nuh Uh! No problem! No Sirree!” Minx shook her head from atop Fuzzy Wuzzy.
“It’s not?” Darwin turned to look at Minx, who was at that time cutting a piece of wood off of a tree.
“Nope! Course not! Fuzzy Wuzzy is here!” Minx gleefully finished pulling a large swath of wood and bark off.
Darwin blinked twice as he stared at Minx in silence. Did this the loopy carefree kid just out think the rest of us and solve a problem before we even realized it was going to be one? “You mean, Fuzzy Wuzzy is going to tell Daniel and them not to kill the red-eyed drakes? You do know that other than me, you seem to be the only one who can understand him, right?”
“Yep yep!” Minx bounced as she nodded then pulled out her daggers and attacked the stripped off piece of wood. “That’s why we leave a sign!” She held up the freshly carved plank. On it, in rather big words, was written a very simple set of instructions: Red Eyes Good! Not Red Eyes Bad! Only Kill Drakes Without Red Eyes! PS. Please Pet Fuzzy Wuzzy.
That’s . . . actually brilliant. Darwin couldn’t help but laugh as a smile grew across his face. When Minx gave the sign to Fuzzy Wuzzy, who obediently held it up, it was somehow the funniest thing Darwin had seen in weeks. Watching Fuzzy Wuzzy hold up the sign with his front paws and slowly shuffle on his two hind legs as if he were a person trying to walk with pants down around his ankles, was enough to make not only Darwin but the other two laugh loudly as well.
“Well, that’s one way to solve the problem. Do you think that, after the dungeon, we can get Fuzzy Wuzzy to hold a sign for a lemonade stand?” Kass chuckled, her grin growing faster than Darwin’s. “I think now I’d actually like to see Fuzzy Wuzzy get that banker’s cap from Burizza, the polar bear boss in the first dungeon, and open up a Fuzzy Wuzzy Emporium. We could sell everything from armor and weapons to clothes–just no rugs. He might find them offensive.”
“What? Not all rugs are bearskin, Kass. Also, how about hair dye? Can you imagine Fuzzy Wuzzy with a different color for his fur?” Darwin joined in musing upon shopkeeper Fuzzy Wuzzy. “I bet purple would be a good color on him.”
“We could get him to dye himself red, and then he could hide in a sunset and completely vanish from sight,” Minx offered. She then made a poof noise as she waved both her open hands in front of her face. “Ninja bear, not just for snow bears.”
Minx, who didn’t seem to understand why all three of them were laughing, just ignored them and walked over with Fuzzy Wuzzy to the entrance of the cave, where she promptly maneuvered him so the sign would be visible to anyone approaching the dungeon.
Kitchens, jovially laughing with the two, ended the fun though. “I think it’s about time to get moving unless you want to wait around for Valerie and the rest.”
“No, even though this is dungeon is clearly ranked higher than average, there is still the chance that another group may find it and try to clear it.” Darwin walked towards Minx at the entrance, signaling the other Drakes to join him inside the mountain.
“Yeah, my thoughts exactly. Early bird gets the worm,” Kitchens said, going through with his Drake, AzurWrath, before any of the others even reached the entrance.
Next, Kass and Toothifer popped through the hole without a word. Kass kept chuckling, but Darwin wasn’t sure why. Darwin could only guess that it was because she was still picturing Minx and Fuzzy Wuzzy standing beside the cave entrance with the sign as if they were hitchhikers trying to get noticed.
While they were crawling through one at a time, Darwin noticed one drake was even darker than the others. The scales varied in hue from beast to beast, some bright blue and some tinted dark to almost black, but this particular one was black as freshly poured asphalt at night. Holy mother of awesome clichés! Darwin started to find himself just as excited as Kass had been earlier. That’s a black dragon! He quickly glanced at Kass and Kitchens to see if they noticed it, and then just hopped into the cave behind the drake before the next one came up in line and climbed up on its back. This is so cool, he thought.
Unlike Kass, who had managed to embody a squeegasm when she saw the Blue-Drakes for the first time, Darwin did his best to maintain his cool demeanor as he took off into the sky on his new black dragon. “Alright, Kass, run the same path as last time, and make sure Minx keeps up. Just point and let the ZombiDrakes know where the enemy groups were so we can have them camped before the respawn. Kitchens, you run the path you ran last time, and I’m going to follow you,” he commanded from atop his black mount.
“Do I have to ride one?” Minx asked from below. “Can’t I just walk?”
“Do you want to have to fight a pack of six of them if things go wrong?” Darwin worried that the comment might have been too close to home for her.
“Fine, I’ll get on one. But his name will be Scaley Waley, and he better be friendly with Fuzzy Wuzzy,” Minx crawled up the tail until she sat atop the neck of the nearest Drake.
“Got it. Let’s go, Minx! Let’s prove that we’re faster than the boys!” Kass shouted and took off. Minx, her new Scaley Waley and half the Blue-Drakes chased after Kass. Minx looked like she was holding on for dear life as her new mount reached faster and faster speeds.
“We could go super fast and try to beat them there,” Kitchens started to lead AzurWrath off for a moment as he calmly flew down his route with Darwin, “or we could have a cup of tea, let them think they won and be the happier for it.”
“Do you have any tea in your inventory?” Darwin wouldn’t put it past Kitchens.
“Unfortunately, no,” Kitchens said, frowning.
“Then I suppose that only leaves us one option.” Darwin was about to shoot off with his new flying ride when Kitchens held up a hand for him to wait.
“But, in lieu of tea, I do have some nice cold Japanese sake that I may have picked up in town. For some reason, no matter how long I keep it in my inventory, it will always stays chilled.” He pulled a bottle with odd Japanese words on it out of thin air. “Will this do in the absence of tea?”
“I suppose it will, but is there any reason you’re stalling me?” Darwin questioned the man who was already pouring out two glasses skillfully.
“A father must always let his daughter believe she won,” Kitchens smiled, “and it’s rare that I get to drink with a friend these days.”
“Fair enough,” Darwin eagerly flew close and took a cup of the sake that Kitchens had just poured, “but let’s not be too slow about it. We still have a boss to kill.”
“Indeed. Kanpai,” he said, raising his glass.
“Cheers,” Darwin raised his glass and then took a sip. It was a weird experience, drinking sake in the middle of a dungeon on the way to a boss.
Kitchens took another sip of his sake, and then, after a moment, he finally asked what had clearly been on his mind. “You’re going to try to kill the Panda King after this, aren’t you? That’s why you keep stealing everything we kill that has any value, right?”
“I’m afraid I won’t have a choice. Those ninjas were sent before we had even hinted of treachery. You know what he’ll do once he finds out we didn’t kill his enemies, but empowered them.” Darwin found himself enjoying the taste of cold sake much more than the thought of what was to come.
“So you wish to cast the first stone?”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I’d rather avoid fighting altogether. Any fight will lead to death on both sides. And last time I checked, death isn’t a good thing no matter how you get there. Also, I have no claim on the lands, but my people have been forcibly made into vagabonds, so I’m going to have to settle down eventually. They deserve to rest their head on their own pillow in their own home one day.” Darwin took another sip of the sake. The entire situation, two men sipping sake and discussing politics atop winged serpents in the middle of a dungeon on their way to a boss with dozens of Blue-Drakes following them, was surreal and nothing like his usual gaming experience; but, for some reason, Darwin rather enjoyed not grinding for a change, a thing that he would never have imagined in his life before Tiqpa.
“And this is where you wish to make that last stand? In a dead volcano?” Kitchens made an obvious point of looking around. “Seems almost too fitting given I’ve been calling you fire.”
“I’m hoping it’ll be less of a last stand and more of just an average week day,” Darwin chuckled.
“Are you going to bolster your forces past only a few players and NPCs?” Kitchens wondered aloud. “I imagine if you were to tell people that they could ride their own Blue-Drake, you’d have volunteers from among the high-Level players in the region.”
The idea of recruiting players and not just NPCs didn’t sit well at all with Darwin for some reason. He liked Kitchens and Minx well enough, and Daniel, Valerie and Mclean were fun to talk to, but the thought of any others left a sinking feeling in his stomach like he had swallowed a giant ball of lead, and it was working it’s way down his gut. “I haven’t considered that.”
“I’ve read many times about the need for a warrior to have a general and resolute acceptance of death, that he must understand and accept his fate before even unsheathing his sword.” Kitchens sipped his sake again. “But accepting that you will one day die and giving up now are two different things. Consider your options carefully before rejecting a great force like the players of this realm, especially when they are likely to be your enemies if they are not your allies.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Darwin nodded, understanding that if he didn’t find a way to pull players to his side in the upcoming war, they were likely to side with the King. He had been able to fight the ninjas, but even for him it had been a tough battle.
“Fair enough . . . and don’t tell Minx we were drinking before a fight.” Kitchens finished off his sake and put the glass away. Darwin tossed his glass over to Kitchens after he was done so he could stash it too.
“Shall we?” Darwin said, riding up to the giant platform hosting the boss.
“I need to tell Kass her impression was perfect,” Kitchens snickered.
“What?” Darwin asked, missing the punchline entirely.
“Nothing. They’re waiting. Let’s do this.” Kitchens shot off towards Kass and Minx on the other side of the arena.
On the way over, the massive, iridescent, feathered dragon perked its head up and started flying directly at Kitchens and AzurWrath. While maintaining the shape of a western-style, European-themed dragon, it was the size of three wooly mammoths.
Crap, he’s spotted us before the fight even started. Darwin panicked, looking around at the drakes behind him. Do I call for backup, or can we do this?
“Darwin!” Kass yelled when she saw the dragon move. “We’re on our way!” Kass kicked off with Minx like bullets towards the two men. It was starting to look like all five of them, the dragon and the four players, were going to collide in mid-air until the suicidal game of chicken came to a close with Kitchens and Darwin pulling up and Kass and Minx diving down as the dragon barreled past the dreaded collision point.
Once the dragon realized that it had missed its target, it stretched its wings to their full span to stop its forward momentum, creating a giant gust of wind and almost instantly halting it in the air. It then yanked its tail around to slice at Kitchens and Darwin. Kitchens dodged it, but Darwin’s drake wasn’t fast enough. The jet-black dragon barely managed to lift its arms and legs up to brace for impact as the tail came sliding into it, the force of the hit throwing Darwin off his comfortable seat and sending him flying up the drake’s neck.
Kitchens, who saw the whole thing, flew over to catch Darwin, but it was too late. Darwin wasn’t falling where Kitchens had thought he would. Instead, Darwin had managed to sink his blade into the tail of the boss as it rushed past him with his black mount carried away by it, leaving him hanging off the tail long enough to slow his fall and throw his trajectory a good ten or twenty feet higher than Kitchens had anticipated. Luckily for Darwin, Kass and Minx had gone under the dragon during the turn, and Minx was able to get herself positioned in time to catch Darwin.
“Forget his eye; I caught the whole guy!” Minx laughed as she held Darwin with impressive strength in the same fashion as the knight always caught the damsel back in children’s movies. The princess-like-carry turned out to be a rather awkward position for Darwin, who sat overflowing her small arms.
“Ummm, thanks, but, could you . . .” Darwin motioned at the feathered dragon. “You know, throw me on that guy?”
“Sure sure! Minx the Lynx can do it all!” she laughed excitedly, pulling her drake up and charging the dragon.
Kitchens circled with Kass around the flanks of the dragon, looking for an opening, while Minx just went straight up the middle in her usual, haphazard fashion. The feathered fiend turned and faced her, wings still spread out as it hovered in the air, and opened its mouth to release a giant, elephant-sized blast of molten-hot fire breath. Darwin flinched at first as the fiery torrent pummeled into Scaley Waley, but Minx didn’t even blink, she just kept pressing forward. Sure enough, the angle of the drake’s head was just right that the scales on its head and neck took the entire hit of the flames leaving her unscathed.
As Minx got closer, the dragon started reaching out with its front claws to try and either swipe or grab her, but she, still holding Darwin in her arms, tossed Darwin like a hot potato right into the dragon’s chest and dove under the monster to avoid the mauling.
Darwin, soaring through the air in an awkward arms-flailing fashion as if he were an inflatable tube man, managed to land straight on the foe’s chest, where he would have just bounced right off if his Burizza’s Blade hadn’t managed to sink far enough in to create sufficient leverage to swing himself back towards the beast.
“You got it?” Kass asked, circling under the boss just far enough away to stay out of immediate attack range.
“Yeah, I think I got it,” Darwin grunted as he dug his second Burriza in. Then, at the last minute, he rolled across the dragon’s chest and out of the way of an incoming claw intent on removing him. “Kitchens, can you get on its back? I’m hurting it here, but it’s barely anything at all. We’re going to need to get its neck.”
“Got it,” Kitchens said, diving onto the back of the almost stationary dragon as it kept swiping and pawing with its front claws in a mad grab to swat the pesky Darwin-fly.
Darwin wished he could see how well Kitchens was fairing on the back, but, as soon as he landed, it was evident he had done something. The dragon started to spin around in the air faster than a tea cup carnival ride, throwing Darwin to first one side and then the next as he changed directions, the whole time shooting out fire balls that landed harmlessly on the four Drakes circling him.
“I’m at his neck on this side, can you make your way up his chest on that one?” Kitchens called out below.
“Yeah, I can try,” Darwin did his best to dodge the flailing dragon arms as he dug his Burizza’s Blades, one after another, into the dragon’s chest and climbed its scaly exterior like a ladder up to its neck. “I’m ready on this side! You still good?”
“Behead the beast!” Kitchens shouted, and he and Darwin both stabbed the giant oak tree sized neck. The shrieks that came out of the dragon as it reeled in pain midair were loud enough to physically hurt Darwin, and it took every bit of willpower he was able to muster up in order to not grab his ears in pain. Finally, relief from the screams came when his blade finished severing the boss’s jugular and cut into the windpipe. It was going smoothly except that, at this point, the nearly dead dragon’s wings fell limp, and where it once was hovering in the air, it now began to sink little by little as gravity bore it downwards.
“Minx! Kass! Can you get us off this thing?” Darwin yelled for help from his two companions as soon as the creature began plummeting towards the ground, happy to find Kass and Toothifer waiting for him as soon as he pressed off from the creature’s neck.
After the boss crashed into the ground, Darwin was preparing himself for the next phase of the battle on land. Instead, what he saw was the beast writhing around in pain like bacon trying to avoid touching the pan as it flapped about in its own guts
A familiar message popped up in front of him:
You have reached Level 50!
Please choose from one of these abilities:
Ketchup is a vegetable! (Passive) – Heal 1% life every 3 seconds blood splatter is on you during combat.
If you can’t find the right nutrition for your meal, just pretend like ketchup is a vegetable. My school did.
Knock off the horns, brush off the hair, and run it through the kitchen! (Passive) – +10% to flat elemental resistance. +10% additional resistance to fire magic.
Extra crispy is only good for chicken fingers, not a good slab of beef. Make sure to always order your steaks rare or don’t even bother.
Tiqpa, I pick ‘Ketchup is a Vegetable!’ Darwin answered without a second thought. Elemental resistance was key, but every enemy he had encountered so far bled, and he desperately needed ways to heal since they lacked a proper support class.
“What did we get? What did we get? What did we get?” Minx practically bubbled as she bounced as much as ran to the fallen boss for loot.
“Well it seems there is only a blade, a staff, a bangle, and a really large stone,” Kitchens said, going through the loot.
“What? No daggers? That’s not fair!” Minx frowned with a harumph and threw her arms over her chest.
“Well, like I said, there is a bangle, Band of Feathers. Do you want it?” Kitchens offered his daughter an actual band of feathers, iridescent like the dragon.
“And the staff?”
“Here you go,” Kitchens handed her a black staff with red flames crawling up and down the sides of it. The flames must have been for decoration though because none of them seemed to burn either Kitchens as he passed it to Kass or Kass as she held it.
“So what’s with the stone and the sword?” Darwin asked, wondering which one he would get.
“Well, the sword isn’t really suited to any of us. It’s one of those squiggly-bladed zweihanders, albeit a cool one. I still don’t see one of us wielding it,” Kitchens said, pulling out the flamberge. As if to match the theme, the entire blade was burning.
“I could give it a try.” Darwin took the blade out of Kitchens’ hands. Dragon’s Final Hymn: 485 Damage, +30 Power, +20 Speed, +10% Fire Resistance, Damage is halved when dual-wielding. Well, this feels comfortable enough, Darwin thought. He felt a rush as he swung the sword back and forth in front of him. “This thing is actually really cool,” he said, grinning and watching the lava-like flames that dripped and flung off of the blade as it arced through the air.
“You’re welcome to the blade, but I think this last one is meant for the faction,” Kitchens said as he tossed a red and black stone to Darwin, who had to quickly put his new zweihander away so he would have a free hand to catch it.
“What is it?” Kass popped up on Darwin’s side and eyed the stone.
“Heart of Fire. When owned by a faction, it grants all faction members a bonus of 5% Damage and 1% Vitality.” Darwin blinked a few more times and probably would have rubbed his eyes if his hands weren’t busy holding on to the rock.
“That’s amazing,” Kass said. Minx and Kitchens slowly nodding their agreement as they all stared at the rock.
“Yes, yes, it is.” Darwin smiled. Things were working out better than he could have hoped for.