51 Limbs All Around
Our entrance causes a bit of a stir in the Grange Stone Circle.
"It's you!" a young Pu`ca yells while dramatically pointing at me.
"It's me!" I agree, clasping my chest with both hands.
"Liam—er, Taliesin—what are you doing? Stop pointing at people!" an older Inuit Shaman chides, yanking the kid away to where the rest of his party seems to be huddled in the shadow of a pillar.
"But, bro! That's the guy! That's HIM!"
"Yeah, I'm him," I say, nodding authoritatively. "Who would that be?" I whisper to Nightfury.
"The guy, apparently," he replies.
"You are a veritable fount of knowledge."
For some reason, the shaman seems familiar, so I try to get a read on the rest of the rando party. However, I can't get a good look at them before Shadeslayer and Lialas have jumped on me and pulled me the other direction across the stone circle, demanding my full attention.
They're as bad as Pix when I come back from running errands: "You were gone SO LONG I was sure you had DIED and left me FOREVER, and by the way I stress-ate your couch and exactly three non-matching shoes but it's not my fault and really aren't they better this way? Slobber is good for the skin!"
Luckily for them, I find puppies endearing.
The random bystander party is clearly eavesdropping as Nightfury and I describe our battle, but I don't particularly care. Not like anything that happened is all that replicable, unless they, too, share my penchant for pissing off the devs enough to have an Epic Beast sicced on them. (In which case, more power to them, and I'm happy to help spread the chaos!)
I simply ignore them and stifle a wry grin as they slowly edge closer the more intense the battle description gets.
"How'd you make it out alive after the CC spell ended?" Shadeslayer asks after we've explained how well the battle progressed once he'd died.
"I kicked it," I explain.
"I kicked the dragon."
Shadeslayer and Lialas look questioningly at Nightfury.
Shrugging, he adjusts his hat. "Literally what he said. Erebus got pissy because we couldn't get the Boss to drop his harp—"
"I wouldn't say pissy," I object, but he ignores me.
"—so he stomped up to the dragon and kicked it in the ankle."
Eight pairs of incredulous eyes bore into me.
The stares are so intense it freaks me out, so I end up watching the clouds float lazily overhead as I try to explain that the system had some catching up to do. My 8% chance to induce Paralysis hadn't triggered in over 500 kicks, so then BAM, I ended up triggering it 6 kicks in a row.
Not only did I manage to disarm the harp and steal it for my upgrade, but we also managed to slay an Epic Three-headed Dragon, so suffice it to say I am no longer anywhere close to "pissy."
(What I don't mention is how this made for an interesting experiment in testing the limits of Fickle Fortune nerfing, and now I wanna see if I get to 1000 kicks before it ends, if I'm gonna get like 50 Paralysis kicks in a row.)
In the stunned silence that follows my calm description of dragon slaying, I look back down.
Right into the striking violet eyes of my Valkyrie Goddess.
No wonder that shaman looked familiar! He's her Party Leader, the one who thought I was too noob to run a dungeon with them.
'Thank you, Fickle Fortune, for giving me this chance to explain away my middle school-worthy cringe behavior so soon!' I enthusiastically think to the winds of fate.
I put on my most sincere smile, which is mostly a slightly-less-smug smirk, and step towards Kara Geir, Goddess of my Dreams.
"Hi," I manage to get out before—
"EEEEEEK!" Shadeslayer screams like a five-year-old girl and hides behind Lialas, pointing up at the hawthorn tree behind me.
"What the—" I turn, and holy shitballs, I kinda want to scream and hide behind Lialas, too, because there is a creepy four-armed, four-legged black-skinned spider dude descending upside down from the tree on a thick strand of silver webbing.
"KILL IT WITH FIRE!" the other party's Anubis Warrior yells, and Shadeslayer vigorously nods in agreement.
"Greetings," terrifying spider-dude says in a rich, rumbling bass voice. "I am Anansi, God of Storytelling."
"Right. Hello then," I say, and if my voice squeaks a little, who can blame me?
Spider God calmly flips over to settle upon the ground on only two bare feet, leaving all six remaining limbs protruding at odd angles from his lean, but muscular body. He's technically all human parts, just too many of them. He's wearing only an orange toga-y sarong-type thing that wraps around his waist and across one shoulder.
"Erebus. Are you the Leader who led his Party to victory and secured the first Nightmare Mode Clear?"
He smiles, too wide to be natural, with too many teeth. It's a trickster's smile, mischievous and wicked.
It sends shivers down my spine, but I paste my own mischievous smirk on my face, more out of stubbornness than anything.
His smile widens a fraction more, and his black eyes gleam. Then he snaps fingers on all four hands, and everyone not in our Party disappears. Including the woman I think might be the love of my life.
Except I can't know for sure because fate keeps conspiring against me.
Shadeslayer screams again. "Where'd they go? Are they DEAD?"
"Fear not." Anansi widens his arms in what I think is supposed to be a calming "we're all in this together" hug-like gesture. (It's not. It's more "come here so I can suck the lifeblood out of you," but it's nice he's trying.) "The others have been sent back to Lough Gur. They have not earned the right to hear the God of Storytelling speak."
Oooooh. My Quest Sense is tingling.
Depending on how a quest is activated, often the game makes it impossible for outsiders to overhear the quest details.
"Congratulations! As a special reward, I, the Great Anansi, Collector of Tales, have come to spirit you off on an epic adventure!"
'This is probably a ploy to eat me, but WHO CARES; I AM SO THERE!' I think, mentally freaking out.
"Oh. Cool," I say, outwardly chill as the God himself.
"As both Party Leader and Highest Contributor, you have the option to travel with your entire Party or as a Solo Player. Please note, however, that this quest has been triggered earlier than expected, and is not advised for Players under Level 15."
I'm only Level 13 right now, but my stats are insanely stacked, so I'm not worried about myself at all.
The others, however, are a different story...
I make eye contact with the rest of the guys, who I realize have ditched me to back up halfway across the circle.
Kane still looks agonized over the fact that we secured a First Clear pretty much entirely without him.
Shadeslayer looks exhausted from the constant dungeon battles, which seems odd, since he did jack all during them.
Lialas looks excited, and terrified, and ready for anything except perhaps coming within ten meters of a giant spider god.
Nightfury looks constipated.
Pretty sure it's his desire to see what special event we just triggered warring with his even stronger desire to be rid of me (and also start his chain quest to rid himself of his Ugly Ass Cursed Hat.) He's also, naturally, the only one who truly understands how difficult this quest could be for underleveled Players.
A little ding grabs my attention.
Then it offers options for accepting with party, accepting solo, or denying the quest.
"How does the quest work? Could my party join in later, or is it a now or never type deal?"
Anansi folds two of his arms, rests the third one on his hip, and holds his chin with the last. Ultra thinking pose! I'm guessing this question wasn't originally part of his programming, so the AI must be determining which way to take it.
Curious, I take the time to make use of my Thread Reader skill to see what level a god might be. To my surprise, he reads:
[Anansi, God of Storytelling]
[Level ∞ - HP ∞]
Level Infinity, huh? Guess this means gods are essentially Immortal Objects.
Gods and underwear.
This game is weird.
"I have given thought to your query," Anansi answers at last. "As the only Player who has qualified for the solo quest, your party cannot progress on the quest journey without you. However, there is no reason that they may not join you as you progress yourself."
Thank fuck. I so did not want to carry leechers along a Main Storyline Quest, but I also so did not want to dick over my party because they suck too much to be helpful.
"This quest contains many parts," Anansi continues. "Every time you succeed with an A Rating or higher, at the beginning of the subsequent chain quest, you will be given the chance to add your Party or revert to Solo."
This is the best possible outcome, and the other guys know it, too.
Before I can say a word, Lialas beats me to it with an easy smile. "So it's goodbye for now, wouldn't you say?"
"Might be best," I agree lightly.
"Don't worry, we're gonna level up so much, we'll never be dead weight again!" Shadeslayer promises passionately.
"Leveling is great, but more importantly, all of you need to finish the Foundation Village skills you skipped. None of you learned Lux, and you two," I level my judgy-iest stare at Shadeslayer and Kane, "never even learned Dodge, arguably the single-most important skill to know."
'Get your shit together,' is what I don't say, but everyone seems to hear me loud and clear anyway.
Kane looks embarrassed and maybe even a little angry, but Shadeslayer smacks his cheeks and looks pumped, ready to get stronger.
"Just don't fuck up and ruin the chain quest," Nightfury says in his usual gruff voice.
"I could say the same for you," I retort, flicking the brim of his hat. "Good luck Curse-breaking."
"Good luck not being killed for being the world's greatest asshole."
"Luck's got nothing to do with it."