No matter how well armored and overpowered an [Adventurer] was there always came times when the need for [Stealth] outweighed all other considerations.
Feral Fang enjoyed that, as a general thing. With the lives of a hundred or so residents of [Oceanus] hanging on her ability to avoid notice from the Consortium forces that were searching ever so diligently for them though, she found playing the mouse part of “cat and mouse” more nerve wrecking than ever.
This patrol’s a small one, Cambrell said, speaking on their party channel so that they wouldn’t be overheard.
I’m betting they’re monitored like the last one was though, Feral Fang said.
The patrol of ten [Metal Mechanoids] wasn’t quiet or subtle. Or particularly strong. Feral had almost solo’d the previous patrol that had discovered them as she lead her assigned batch of citizens from the ruins of [Oceanus] out to a safe (or safer) [Rallying Spot].
She’d been so happy, standing in the wreckage of the first patrol since she’d been entirely uncertain if she would be able to survive the fight, must less come through it in good enough shape to handle another one or two more.
She’d been so unhappy though when she noticed the blinking lights in the remains of the [Metal Mechanoids] and had learned seconds later that the moment the Consortium troops were defeated, a call had gone out to their commanders announcing the fact that they had been rendered violently offline.
Which meant more and tougher units had been dispatched to investigate.
Melissa knew she could have lost the entire community that she’d been assigned to safeguard there.
The backup Consortium forces weren’t playing around when they arrived. There was no lining up and coming at her one by one. There wasn’t even “standard aggro” rules where they would search for her an then give up and go back into passive mode.
The reinforcements’ arrival was heralded by long range artillery fire into the neighborhood where Feral Fang had been fighting.
It made sense. [Oceanus] wasn’t the Consortium’s main target. They didn’t desire the city for itself. It was simply poorly defended with a rich cache of items that could help the Consortium’s war efforts. Bombing parts of it into nonexistence didn’t lose the Consortium anything except for the cost of the ammunition.
Cambrell had saved her bacon there. The [Goblin] [Assassin] was a master of [Stealth] which also apparently gave him a fair but of talent at being very eye catching too.
He’d lead the next Consortium patrol off on a razor’s edge chase through the remnants of the city’s [Merchant Ward] before using his [Assassin] skills to vanish and return to Feral Fang’s side.
With the rest of his party engaged in “other pursuits”, he’d been at loose ends and helping a separate part of the efforts [High Command] had put together to aid [Oceanus] seemed to appeal to him.
Or he just wanted to make sure Feral Fang did a professional job of it, she couldn’t quite tell.
I want to get everyone to the [Gray Street Chapel] next, Feral Fang said, nodding to the tall building that was across a park from the ruined restaurant she’d managed to lead the [Oceanus] citizens to.
A much too large, and much too wide open park.
With at least one and probably two [Snipers] keeping watch on it for movement.
Not going to be easy to run a hundred people over there without being seen, Cambrel said with a glance back at the nervous horde behind them.
The people of [Oceanus] didn’t deserve the day that fate had handed to them. It wasn’t their fault that their [King] had rejected the evidence of the danger they were in because it was inconvenient for him.
Her efforts and the work of the other [Adventuring Parties] that [High Command] had sent in couldn’t fix the damage that a self absorbed “man in charge” could inflict. At best, Feral Fang would be able to buy them the time they needed to rebuild later.
To do that though was going to require some serious risks, and the worst part is, they weren’t risks to her. If she lost the wrong gamble, she’d have to do a run back to the [Heart Fire]. The citizens of [Oceanus] though? They would die. Every last one of them. If they were lucky.
Won’t have to worry about being seen, if there’s no one watching, Feral Fang said.
Cambrell smiled, showing a row of sharp teeth.
I was wondering if you were going to make use of my talents.
I am, Feral Fang, If you’re okay with that.
Killing these guys is a lot nicer than my usual commissions, Cambrel said.
Oh, actually, I had a different set of talents in mind, Feral Fang said.
I’m not that good at singing, I don’t care what anyone’s told you, Cambrell said.
Not that. Sneaking. I need you to lead the citizens to the [Chapel].
I’m not sure my “lone [Assassin]” training is going to come in all that handy keeping an army like this quiet, Cambrell said. I’d be better at quietly eliminating the two [Snipers] that are watching the square.
That’s the thing, Feral Fang said, I don’t think we want quiet eliminations. I think we need to make some noise. Just not here.
You’re going to try to distract them?
Distract them, destroy them, whatever works, Feral Fang said, I’m pretty sure I can get and keep their attention. All I have to do then if make sure they’re following me long enough for you to get the citizens over to the [Chapel] and down into their [Catacombs] beneath it.
You want to take all these people into dark [Catacombs] after what they’ve just been through?
Yeah, but don’t take them in till I get back, Feral Fang said as she reached into her [Infinite Crafting Bag] and caught the tail of the fish she was looking for.
I’m not inclined to take them in at all, Cambrell said. Why would we go through there.
If you’ve beaten the dungeon as many times as I have, there’s a layer that comes into effect where all of the [Unquiet Dead] are replaced with [Grateful Ancestors]. The [Catacombs] aren’t just a dungeon. They’re a part of the town’s defenses, and the [Guardian Spirits] will definitely not be willing to let the Consortium forces try to follow us.
Mellisandra could have given Damnazon flowers, or gold, or fine candies to show how grateful she was for Damnazon’s presence and support but, for an [Adventurer], there was only one gift that spoke of true appreciation.
“A new [Spear]? For me?” Damnazon’s eyes were as wide as dinner plates and Mellisandra could see she was restaining herself from grabbing the [Lance of Lost Ages] like a five year old would.
“It was part of the loot from [Oceanus Treasury],” Mellisandra said. “I left behind the best copy too! I still had an old [Cursed Spear of Armor Sundering] that Penny had glamoured to look just like this thing.”
“Wait, you took a [Legendary] class artifact and left behind a cursed weapon that literally disintegrates your armor in its place? And no one noticed?”
“It was a really good glamour,” Mellisandra said. “I just wish there was some way to see the look on the Consortium guys faces when they discover what all the stuff we left in the [Treasury] does.”
“I don’t get it though, I thought the raid was just to get the [Treasury’s] artifact to safety,” Damnazon said. “Should you really give this to me?”
“We’ve gone from one party among many, to a trouble shooting team the head of [High Command] is casually sending into particularly thorny problems knowing that she can depend on us to sort them out. I think that means, you get all the best stuff we can find, and we all pray that it’s enough to keep up with whatever mad situations Penny throws us into next.”
“But, I mean, there’s other people she’s doing that with too,” Damnazon said, still holding back from grabbing the spear.
“Then they can get their own legendary weapons,” Mellisandra said. “Listen, you’ve had my back, all of our backs, through some ridiculous fights already. If for no other reason, take this for me. The harder you hit, the less chance they’ll have to hit you back, or any of the rest of us.”
Damnazon rolled her eyes and finally accepted the spear, her smile lighting up as she felt the item’s stat boosts flow through her.
“Oh, this is a lot better than the one I’ve been using,” she said, euphoria sparkling in every word. “I feel like I should have gotten you something though.”
“That was the only part of the raid that sucked,” Mellisandra said. “In the whole big treasure horde, they didn’t have any [Arcane Tomes] that were better than the one I’m already packing. Upside though, it made it easier for me to bid on that one for you.”
“Wait, you bid on this? Like with gold?” Damnazon said. “I thought you all were just sneaking in and making off with the whole treasury. When did you have time to divy things up?”
“Uh, well, we probably shouldn’t have rolled for loot distribution while we were still in the middle of the raid, but someone suggested it, and we were all so used to doing it that we had the whole pile split up so fast it was too late for anyone to argue.”
“You were supposed to be careful!” Damnazon’s accusation carried the extra weight of being left behind because she was too large to be carried by the [Shadow Walk Portal]. Also because she wasn’t a max level [Rogue]. Which Mellisandra wasn’t either, but the [Rogues] had needed a spellcaster with them in order to disarm some of the more gimmicky traps, and she’d stepped forward.
“We were! I promise. We were so fast. And it turned out to be so easy too,” Mellisandra said. “The [Castle Guards] weren’t even at the one gate where we’d expected them.”
“Uh, that doesn’t sound good.”
“The Consortium’s troops were making better time through the city than we’d expected,” Mellisandra said. “I talked to the one of the other teams, Feral Fang’s. She was out in the town rounding up the civilians. She said the Consortium forces were weird. Desperate. Like they had to take the city right away.”
“I hadn’t heard any of that,” Damnazon said.
“It’s just an anecdote,” Mellisandra said. “I’m sure we’ll get a more comprehensive report once [High Command] has reviewed all the data, but I’m not going to be surprised if there’s been some massive change on the Consortium’s end of things.”
“It’d be funny to get a [Legendary] class weapon and then have peace be declared,” Damnazon said.
“Funny, nice, and I will bet my last gold piece not even close to what’s going to happen. From what Feral Fang described, the Consortium is more than doubling down.”
“They seemed pretty focused and unyielding before, what’s new now?” Damnazon asked as she began practicing with the [Lance of Lost Ages].
“Tactics. Before they had some. And they’d adjust to try to stay alive and maximize the effectiveness of their forces. [Oceanus] was wrecked though. And there were a lot of dead Consortium troops that I saw as we got out of there. Well, a lot of dead and a whole lot more still living. Just far too many for a town like [Oceanus], even with the [Treasury] as their prize.”
“Were the others able to get the citizens out?” Damnazon.
“Some of them. The ones who wanted to go.”
“There were ones who wanted to stay?”
“Yeah, [King’s] orders.”
“Why would he do that? And why would anyone obey something like that?”
“I can think of precisely zero good or sane reasons.”
“What about bad reasons?” Damnazon asked, stopping her practice swings with the [Lance of Lost Ages].
She was concerned, but Mellisandra could tell from her expression that she hadn’t yet considered the worst case, and increasingly likely, scenario that suggested itself.
“I don’t want to be right about this one,” Mellisandra said. “But despite the fact that it means they’ll be overwritten into mindless slaves of the Consortium, the ones who stayed, and the King? They could be joining the Consortium.”