Tessa was disappointed when the attack arrived. Not surprised. Finding the abandoned farmhouse swarmed with [Chaos Centipedes] was hardly an unexpected occurrence. The trio of monsters which burst from concealment in the ground weren’t even particularly dangerous. Just annoying.
“Guess we better focus on clearing a path through these things,” Tessa said with a heavy sigh. She’d been enjoying the chance to chat with Lisa while they jogged from the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave] to the farmhouse. Duty called though.
“Yeah, if we have to call on someone else to rescue us so we can go rescue Starchild’s crew, we’re going to lose all the cool point ever,” Lisa said on their private channel.
To Pillowcase’s left, one of the charging centipedes exploded in shower of sparks which rapidly consumed all of the bits of gore as they burst outwards.
“Ooookay, I guess that’s a little overkill,” Rip said over the shared team channel.
One of the two remaining centipedes twitched as a thin lightning bolt blew a hole straight through it. It’s front half then caught fire while it’s back half was encased in ice.
“I didn’t even use a spell on that one!” Matt said. “That was just a basic attack!”
“Welcome to being higher level than your foe,” Alice said. “It sucks for them just as much as it sucked for us in that [Wraithwing] attack.”
Pillowcase shield bashed the last attacking centipede and then crushed it into paste with a swing of her mace.
“You might have to go though a lot more of those,” Obby said. “We kind of charged in and slaughtered about a hundred of them.”
“How long ago was that?” Pillowcase asked, calculating the likely population density based on the respawn time that she’d seen on their previous trip to the farm.
“About fifteen minutes ago,” Starchild said.
Pillowcase stopped calculating.
“So. All of them. All of them will be back then?” she asked.
“Pretty much,” Pete said.
“There don’t seem to be any down here at least,” Lady Midnight said.
“Yeah, I think the demons would eat them if the [Chaos Centipedes] burrowed too deep,” Obby said.
“How far down did you fall?” Rip asked. Another centipede sprang from a covered hole on the ground but a normal arrow shot turned it into a deflating mass of green jelly.
“About a hundred feet,” Obby said. “The ceiling in here is about twenty feet high too, so getting back up to the hole we fell down would be tricky.”
“Not to be morose, but what happens if you die in there?” Matt asked. “I mean, could your ghosts even escape?”
“Not a question I’m super eager to discover the answer to,” Lady Midnight said.
“I think they’d have to find a [Heart Fire] within that dungeon and if there’s none around that are attuned for player use they’d need to find one of the other exits,” Alice said.
A cluster of centipedes were waiting inside the farmhouse but before Pillowcase could worry about them, her team needed to deal with the half dozen packs of centipedes that were converging on their position.
“What if there aren’t any other exits?” Rip asked. “I mean are some dungeons just cut off like that?”
“It’s not how any of the ones in the game were setup,” Alice said. “Even the ones that you could fall into accidentally had main entrances which were fairly obvious and easy to pass through as a ghost.”
“One of the early dungeons, I think it was [The Maze of Madness] was one you could get stuck in right?” Tessa asked. “But I think that was only true which you were alive. If you died, you got warped out to the [Heart Fire] that was outside the maze.”
“Ugh, I hated that one,” Lady Midnight said.
“Yeah, it sucked so hard they never made one like that again,” Alice said. “So many hours wasted in that stupid thing looking for the prize at the center and all it took was one death and all your efforts went poof.”
“Why?” Rip asked. “Couldn’t you just retrace your steps.”
“That was the ‘Madness’ part of the dungeon,” Tessa said, remembering the teams she’d tried to lead through the maze. She prayed the demon dungeon Starchild and the others were in wasn’t a modern repeat of it. “The maze was procedurally generated for each team when they entered. If you left, the next time you came back it would be entirely different.”
“Maybe we’ve got an advantage here then,” Rip said. “I mean, the place Obby, Star, and Midnight are is made out of stone right? So it can’t just shift around like something made of pixels and bits can.”
“Generally true,” Obby said. “Stone’s pretty solid. If you add [Chaos Essence] to an area though space can get a little weird.”
“How weird?” Pete asked.
“Take a look at the bottom of the room that we’re hanging over,” Obby said.
“It’s like a big bowl,” Lady Midnight said. “I can’t make out what’s at the bottom though.”
“That’s because there is no bottom,” Obby said. “The center of the room drops down, down, down, until it reaches one of the levels in the [Sunless Deeps].”
“Wait, what?” Alice said. “The [Sunless Deeps] aren’t in the [High Beyond] though. They’re in the old zones. Or at least attached to them.”
“What are the [Sunless Deeps]?” Matt asked.
“They’re a zone that was added after the first level caps raises went into effect,” Tessa said. “They’re basically the [Fallen Kingdoms] version of the underworld, with all kinds of high level mobs and raid areas. When I was last playing some of the best loot in the game was down there.”
“That’s still true,” Lady Midnight said. “There are special purpose accessory pieces from the raids there that haven’t been surpassed by anything yet.”
“So I’m hearing we’ve got loot to win!” Rip said.
“Anyone mind if I adopt Rip Shot?” Obby asked.
“We are nowhere near strong enough to do that yet,” Lady Midnight said. “The real loot hoards don’t start showing up until level 70 at a minimum. We’d be vaporized the instant we stepped foot in there.”
“Also, as a note,” Pete said. “Even if we could get the loot, we couldn’t wear it till we were level 70, so there’s really no point to heading there yet.”
“Yeah, this is supposed to be a rescue, isn’t it?” Matt asked. “Like we get them out and then all head somewhere we can handle.”
“Maybe not…” Alice mumbled.
“You’ve got an idea?” Tessa asked.
“We don’t have to fight to get through there,” Alice said. “Not if we have some high level players clear a path for us. This dungeon could be a link to connect us back up with the rest of the world.”
“Ah, sorry there,” Obby said. “I should have mentioned. The pit to the [Sunless Deeps] drops into a raid dungeon which wasn’t ready yet, so it’s cut off from everything else. There’s a grate over the pit which seals it from this end and the other side is disconnected from the normal passages through the [Sunless Deeps]. The demons have even painted the inner side of it with the blood from their fallen comrades to create sigils to make it unpassable by the usual short range teleport abilities.”
“That’s a shame,” Lady Midnight said. “We know there are a ton of level appropriate dungeons in the old zones. It’d be a lot safer tackling those than taking a chance on the ones here.”
“Even in known areas, the encounters may not be quite what you think they should be,” Starchild said. “With the [Consortium of Pain] attacking, there will be displaced monsters, and formerly safe refuges which have fallen into enemy hands.”
“We’re lucky there,” Obby said. “The Consortium is focusing a lot of their efforts at taking down the [Fallen Kingdoms] primary defenders. Not many people are looking to the [High Beyond] for strategic targets since it’s reasonable cut off and there aren’t many high level defenders here.”
“Are there any high levels here?” Tessa asked. “I mean there hasn’t been time for anyone to have level capped yet and even if they did, their gear would be junk wouldn’t it?”
“Players aren’t the only ones who are defending against the Consortium,” Obby said. “A lot of the native powers, good or bad, aren’t going to sit back and let a pan-dimensional company come in and stripmine that world for all its magic and resources.”
Tessa paused to think about that. A [Chaos Centipede] tried to interrupt her but it was less than successful. As were it’s fourteen friends.
“Oh wow. If it’s not just us, does that mean even the dungeon and raid bosses are joining the fight?” she asked.
“If their own manner,” Obby said. “Most aren’t going to fight alongside the players. There’s not enough trust there, and at least some of the ‘villains’ are intent on fighting the Consortium as much to gain more power for themselves as they are for defending the [Falling Kingdoms].”
“None of that is going to happen soon though is it?” Tessa asked, voice the question as intuition drove it into her mind.
“Why would you say that?” Lady Midnight asked.
“Armies move pretty slowly,” Obby said.
“That’s what the in-game reason would have been,” Tessa said. “Out of game, EE likes to milk their expansions for all they’re worth. The whole war against the Consortium probably has two year of events tied to it so they can roll stuff out every quarter to give the players some new treadmill to grind on.”
“Maybe this fight is the first event then?” Lady Midnight said.
“Let’s hope not,” Alice said. “If Pillowcase is right, and this is still tied in with the dev’s original plan, then the first fights against the Consortium will be ones the defenders lose.”
“That makes sense,” Matt said. “If the defenders win the first big battle, then the war could be over before it starts.”
I wonder how much we can change the narrative the EE devs baked into the game? Tessa thought.
Or if it’s even present at all? Pillowcase responded.
It’s probably dangerous to assume it is and dangerous to assume it’s not, Tessa thought. We’ve really got to get back in touch with Burnt Toast. The support team should have data at this point on whether the events here are playing out following the plan the devs had setup.
Want to bet they’re not? Pillowcase asked.
After the [Wraithwing Assault]? No. No I do not want to take that bet.
You know I feel like we’re missing some other opportunity here though.
Tessa paused at the entrance to the farmhouse, the words for the [Lesser Spirit Drain] spell on her lips as she picked at the memory that was teasing around the edges of her mind.
“So how are we going to get them out?” Matt asked. “I mean I’ve got some rope in my pack but it’s not long enough to reach that far. I think.”
“I’ve got some too,” Rip said. “No idea why though. Is there something you can do with rope in the game?”
“It shows up in some cutscenes,” Alice said. “Our bags are supposed to carry a bunch of general purpose adventuring stuff so that we can pull out whatever trivial items are needed to make things seems realistic.”
“What we mostly need you to do is secure the rope and then defend it while we climb,” Pete said. “It didn’t make sense to try to climb up with the the [Chain Lasher] and the centipedes waiting for us or crawling down the hole to get us before we got to the top.”
“Oh, right, the [Chain Lasher],” Rip said. “Where is that…”
She was cut off by the monster in question leaping onto Pillowcase.
“[Flame Shot] [Multi-Burst]!”
“[Casting spell: Torment]”
“[Casting spell: Hungry Guardians]”
The last came from Alice, and between the damage Rip and Matt inflicted and the protection Alice provided, Pillowcase didn’t need to activate even a single one of her own abilities. Where once there had been a [Chain Lasher] only a shattered pile of metal links and dripping ichor remained.
“Sounds like you folks are having fun,” Obby said.
“Moreso than last time,” Alice said.
“Give us a minute and I think we can get you out of there,” Matt said.
Intuition finally clicked into words
“Unless we don’t,” Tessa said, the idea in her head seeming more plausible from each new angle she considered it from.
“You realize we only have lowbie level gold to pay you with right?” Pete asked.
Tessa shook her head.
“No. I’m not saying we leave you there. I’m saying we join you.”
“I thought we didn’t want to tangle with an unknown dungeon?” Rip said.
“I think it might be worth it,” Tessa said. “There’s some loot we can get in there that we haven’t seen much of yet.”
“Loot? What kind of loot?” Lady Midnight asked.