44 Let Loose the the Dog of War
Dear gods the hat.
Even as we fight our way through the catacombs, slaying Celtic ghosts and zombies and the occasional pack of Cwn Annwn—hellhounds that look like emaciated wolves with blue-flame eyes—my own eyes are constantly drawn to the wide-brimmed monstrosity sitting jauntily atop Nightfury's dark red hair.
It's battered, so there's a hole for one of his small silver Draegkyn horns to stick through, but the other horn is covered by the floppy gray-black leather. The top is low and flat, and the entire thing looks like something a pirate might wear, or a bush hunter from the Australian Outback.
And it won't come off.
Nightfury spends ten entire minutes trying everything in his power to unequip it, or store it, or hang it from a belt loop—anything to get it off his head, where it automatically appeared when he opened the chest meant for me.
He can slightly adjust it on his head, and that's it. He wouldn't tell us the full details of the Curse no matter how Lialas wheedled and begged, but considering the faces he was making as he read the description, I have a feeling he's going to be rocking that floppy hat look for weeks, if not months, before he can get close to breaking the bind.
Shit, I'm laughing so hard I'm crying again.
An arrow comes flying at my face, so I lazily knock it aside with Zen. Smirking at Nightfury, I tip an imaginary hat to his archery prowess, then point my shiny new crossbow at him. His angry face widens in alarm, and he flinches...only to realize I was aiming at the last hellhound behind him, which dies with a howl when three bolts strike it in the head.
Ignoring Nightfury's uninventive curses, I open the door and head into the next open crypt area.
This time, I have plenty of warning before the wooden chimes sound in the darkness. Before the winds of fickle fortune can blast through the dungeon, Aku's enraged screams alert me to the return of the Banshee.
The scarlet-tinged ankle-deep fog flashes and sends jolts through me like static electricity, so I'm hopping from one foot to the other when the hideous hag reappears in a whirl of fog.
I've already incurred the Curse, so it's no big deal to draw Aku for this second bout. In fact, given the murderous aura emanating from Aku's scabbard, I'm pretty sure the blade would turn on me if I didn't let it out to enact its revenge.
Only problem is...we still haven't made it to the Final Boss Lair? This isn't where the Banshee's supposed to show up for the final showdown where she can be killed!
*Happy Chime of Doom*
[You have triggered a HIDDEN BOSS!]
Lialas grabs Shadeslayer and runs up to me. \"How is this possible?! Can dungeons have more than one Hidden Boss?\"
Thoughtful, I nod. \"Technically, I've heard of 50-man dungeons with multiple Hidden Bosses. But they have such low spawn rates, the probability of spawning more than one in the same run is...well...\"
\"Stupid unlikely. So improbable, in fact, this game could run for years without anyone triggering multiple Hidden Bosses in a single dungeon run,\" Nightfury finishes.
\"What the hell?\" Shadeslayer moans.
\"Guess that means we're just extra lucky!\" I say, pumping my fist in an unholy imitation of Ken the Personal Trainer from Hell.
Nightfury grips the edge of his dumb hat. \"You call this luck!?\" he growls.
\"Immeasurably bad luck is still luck, right?\" I ask cheerfully.
\"That is not what I meant!\"
Lialas clasps Nightfury on the shoulder. \"You didn't specify, so...\"
I clasp Nightfury's other shoulder. \"What he said.\"
Shadeslayer pats Nightfury on the head. Another hole appears in the hat. \"Whoops. At least now both of your horns are visible.\"
Lialas smiles wide. \"See? Lucky!\"
Nightfury sighs. \"I hate everyone.\"
Heart warmed by Nightfury's expression of exasperated defeat, I move out to take down a Banshee.
I mess up.
Part of me really wants to snag the final tooth for Zen'aku's upgrade, while the other part of me really wants to kill this hag and get it over with, so I can break the curse.
In the end, I split my attention too far, and lose out.
I try a myriad of attacks to dislodge a tooth, but the Banshee's combat AI has learned from our last bout, and the same tricks don't work this time. At the same time, I'm trying out different combos and skills, checking her HP drops, trying to figure out a way to kill her before she can disappear.
By the time the wailing woman disappears yet again in a puff of smoke, not only have I not killed the mini-boss, I also have no tooth to show for my efforts.
This puts me in such a bad mood for the Hidden Boss, I don't even care it's a Cù-Sìth, even if it makes no damn sense that one would show up in this underground dungeon.
The Cù-Sìth is a giant hound with forest green fur and a whip-like braided tail, that normally appears in the moors of the Highlands region of Gael. In myth, the creature usually hunts silently, but sometimes releases three bone-trembling barks, and only three, that can be heard for miles, even far out to sea when the hound stands on a cliff. Those unfortunate souls who hear the barking of the Cù-Sìth must reach the safety of the indoors, where the hound's spectral bark cannot penetrate, before the third bark, or be immediately seized with terror and die.
Honestly, I'm so annoyed with myself that when half my party freezes after the very first Willpower Check Bark, I barely notice, let alone care. I just focus on letting out my frustration on the Boss, using martial arts skills to kick the giant dog's green arse.
No, literally. After stunning it with a Chakra Burst, I spend a good thirty seconds running behind the hound and repeatedly kicking it in the arse.
It's cathartic, you know?
Then Nightfury's out for the count after the second Bark, and that I do notice, if only because the stream of curses aimed at me cut off abruptly.
Now my whole party's draining HP to the Boss's DoT (damage-over-time), and I don't have a spell or anything that can block their ears or otherwise shield them from the final Bark. From what I remember, the third one is an intense AoE attack that deals +300 Damage to anyone frozen and unshielded.
Just enough to wipe them out.
There's only 90 seconds between Barks, and no way to interrupt the skill. The smart play here would be to give up on my Party and use the opening created when the Boss is stuck in his post-skill animation to launch an all-out counterattack.
I can see in the distressed eyes of Shadeslayer and Nightfury, and the resigned eyes of Lialas, that they know it, too.
Guess I'm not the one getting MPK'd, huh?
I run my hands through my hair and sigh.
Fuck it. I'm not feeling particularly smart right now anyway.
I close my eyes to visualize as intensely as I can, fling out one hand, and yell, \"Ignis Fatuus!\"
A trail of Will o' the Wisps spark to life, leading the Cù-Sìth toward the far side of the crypt. They're imbued with my Aggro-pulling signature, and since I'm the one holding the Boss's aggro, it chases them without a moment's thought.
While the Boss is distracted, I race to Nightfury, who's closest, and swoop him off his feet. His golden reptilian eyes dart wildly in panic, and I could say something to make him feel less freaked out, but I don't want to.
Instead I just wink at him and take off, carrying him bridal style.
If anything, he looks even more panicked.
We can call it even for him wanting to murder me earlier.
I throw open the door we came in from and toss the Draegkyn into the tunnel like a sack of potatoes. Then I head back into the crypt for the other two. Shadeslayer blushes so hard while I'm carrying him I start to feel embarrassed on his behalf, but I still make sure to hurl him so he lands directly on Nightfury.
As an ash dryad, Lialas weighs next to nothing, so I can run at near top-speed with him. Lialas grins the entire time, carefree as always, eyes sparkling as the leaves growing in his hair blow in the wind.
\"No time to explain!\" I answer the furious question on Nightfury's face, and then I slam the door closed in their faces.
Not two seconds later, the third and final Bark rumbles through the crypt like bone-shattering thunder, and I pray to the Celtic Goddess Danu that dumbass plan worked.
Now then. I believe there's a dog-shaped punching bag ready for Round Two of cathartic aggression release...
-Seven Minutes Later-
\"Whew, that was a good workout. I'm feeling reinvigorated! No way that old hag is gonna beat me next time.\" Rolling my shoulders, I push open the tunnel door. \"Oh wow, you're all still alive! Huh.\"
Nightfury jumps to his feet, tail twitching. \"What do you mean, 'Huh'? You didn't know that was going to work before you threw us in here?\"
\"Yes what? That doesn't answer my question at all!\"
\"When did you get so good with that wisp racial skill?\" Shadeslayer asks, pushing Nightfury aside. \"I haven't even had time to practice it since I learned it at the end of the Quest of Daring!\"
I nod in commiseration. \"Me either, I feel you.\"
Shadeslayer gapes. \"You haven't practiced it much and you're already that good at it?\"
\"I mean. That was my first time using it?\"
Shadeslayer breaks then, for some reason.
Must be the stress catching up to him.