46 Sagging Tits and Critical Hits
I start off slow this time.
Between hits aimed to pull aggro, I explain when the optimal times for assistance would be, between (or in addition to) various attacks.
Nightfury is predictably stoic throughout my impromptu training sesh, though I notice his brow wrinkles in concentration when I offer advice that strays away from "standard" strategies. I'm honestly impressed he can tell the difference, though I'd rather eat his Cursed hat than admit it.
As I field questions from Lialas and Shadeslayer and quiz them on positioning techniques, I'm overcome with bittersweet nostalgia. I'm transported from this dank crypt to the gaming lab downstairs at Team Digital Discord's HQ, training pro hopefuls at one of the recruitment camps we hosted every off-season.
It's a weird feeling.
This isn't actually the first time I've tried to offer advice to other gamers since the accident. Before, though, as soon as the players would realize I couldn't perform the moves I was telling them to try, they'd immediately dismiss me as a fraud.
The more I tried to regain my skills and the more I failed miserably, the more I felt they were right.
I've had months of Viren's Refuge to remember how badass I can be, of course. I'm not faking the shit-eating smirks and overbearing ego; I come by them honestly. And as I swing Zen'aku, both arms fully functional and deadly precise, I know I'll probably become even better at VR than I ever was at online gaming.
But imposter syndrome is insidious.
It gnaws at you like a Celtic Alp-Luachra. The invisible parasitic fae crawls into a sleeping person's mouth and takes up residence in the pit of his stomach, forever feeding on the pith (essence) of the person and the pith of any food he eats to replenish his flagging energy.
No matter how you try to fight, it remains, a silent and ever-present drain on your spirit.
Sometimes, it sleeps, and you can forget for a while what it feels like to be a failure, to be useless.
To be cast away.
But then, when you're least prepared, it returns with vigor, eating away at whatever thin supports you've built to bolster yourself back up.
In this, however, my shameless narcissism is more help than hindrance. There's nothing I like more than proving twatwaffles wrong and shoving my abject awesomeness in their dumbass faces.
Even when the twatwaffle is myself.
Especially then, in fact.
When I finally give the others the go ahead to participate in the battle for real, they prove better at coordination than I expect.
After his increase in AGI, Shadeslayer can manage several hits before needing to back off. The Banshee still freaks him out, and he can't help a strangled yelp here and there, but repeated exposure has tempered his fear. Plus, the lollipop I'd given him granted him a ten-minute Vitality buff, so none of her attacks can one-hit kill him.
Able to think clearly, he's not half-bad.
Not quite good, either, but it's an improvement, nonetheless.
When he pulls off a complete three-part combo and retreats without taking a single point of damage, I offer him honest praise: "Congrats, Shades. You have officially graduated from dead weight!"
"Yesssss!" he cheers, leaping into the air and flapping his midnight blue wings.
"Don't be proud of that, idiot!" Nightfury snaps.
"I can and I will," Shadeslayer retorts, unperturbed.
Taking the role of support, Lialas stays back, keeping a close eye on the Banshee's HP and attack patterns, and keeping an even closer eye on everyone else's HP and SP. He's a decent judge of the rhythm for when each player should pop a potion, though there are only three of us, so it's not particularly difficult.
Periodically, to help interrupt the Banshee's attacks and give me openings to go for a tooth, he shoots her with his Living Slingshot. It's a small weapon made from the World Tree that apparently all Meliae (ash dryads) receive. When not in use, it attaches to the part of their forearms where the skin changes to twisting wood and vines, and connects the dryads to their World Tree Vitality source.
Nightfury's the biggest surprise.
I'd gathered he had decent skills, but turns out, when he's actively trying to work *with* me instead of getting in my way, he's legit helpful.
He stays on the move, constantly finding locations in his optimal range to attack, and he doesn't need any instructions to know precisely when to attack that affords me the best openings.
It's not quite pro level, but he might have the potential to rise into an expert. He hadn't stood out to me in the beta, but every time I'd interacted with him, I'd purposefully pissed him off, so he may not have been inclined to show off his best.
Also, as a reckless melee not in the mood to play well with others, I rarely paid solid attention to the ranged fighters.
Unfortunately, even as our party's coordination reaches the level of Not Entirely Sucking, my mission to snag a second snaggle tooth remains incomplete.
When the Banshee's down to her final quarter of HP, desperation crawls up my throat and flies from my lips as a frustrated cry.
I've used every high-level blade and martial arts skill I know, and I can't waste them again; I can't afford to have any skill on cooldown for the final attack against this ugly hag.
I even try to recreate the headbutt that had initially won me a toothy prize, but she's wised up to that trick. The Banshee raises her head, so I end up bashing her chin. It Stuns her for a few seconds, so Shadeslayer manages a decent combo and Nightfury lands an exploding headshot, but alas, I am left bereft of snaggle teeth.
It's ironic, perhaps, that I'm trying so hard to score a material so I can upgrade the same blade that's probably going to kill me in the next fifteen minutes.
At this point, I'm tempted to give up on the tooth and focus on killing the Banshee. The only problem is, my Fickle Fortune's still in effect for another 56 hours. Who knows what weird shite might go down if I try to run this dungeon again before it's over?
And, sure, I don't *need* to upgrade Zen'aku right this second, but...
I really really want to.
That's honestly what it comes down to.
Also, after fighting this damn mini-boss so many times today, I admit I'm harboring a small grudge.
"Twenty percent!" Lialas calls out.
"Tits!" I swear.
"Okay?" Lialas replies, confused. Shrugging, he shoots the Banshee in the chest with his slingshot.
"No, that's not—" I try to explain.
"Aim lower, she's old! Sag city," Shadeslayer corrects helpfully.
"Good call." Lialas shoots again, this time aiming for what would be bellybutton height, if Harbingers of Death have bellybuttons?
The intense sound effect and flashy animation of a Critical Hit lights up the crypt, and the Banshee screeches.
"Nice!" Shadeslayer cheers.
"Sweet hack, Erebus!" Lialas waves his Living Slingshot triumphantly at me.
Nightfury catches my eye, and for the first time, I can tell we are completely in agreement, awed by the power of dumb luck.
Emphasis on the dumb.
Inspired, I realize there is one move I haven't tried yet.
I raise Aku like an orchestral conductor's baton and imitate the motion that means "Cut!" It's one of the few simple cues I'd taught the others to recognize earlier, and they halt their attacks immediately.
I'm kinda proud.
I generate a Will o' the Wisp behind the Banshee, and she whirls to face it, shrieking her trademark bloodcurdling wail. I saunter up to her side, tap her on the shoulder, and when she turns her fugly mug toward me, I sucker punch the biyatch.
Her jaw cracks, her scabbed lips bust open, and a single tooth goes flying in a spray of bloody spittle.
Shadeslayer snatches it out of the air, grimacing and grossed out, but committed to being a helpful member of this team.
Nightfury goes slack-jawed. "I can't believe that worked."
"The power of Stupid is never to be underestimated," I reply sagely.
He nods, too overwhelmed to remember he'd rather die than outwardly agree with me.
It pains me to ignore the obvious opening, but we have an unkillable mob to destroy, and I need my dragon boy firing with full focus.
Besides, if I know one thing with absolute certainty, it's that I will be presented with the opportunity to enrage Nightfury again...and again...and again...
I smile, content, and Nightfury shivers, a sudden chill racing down his spine.