86 Apocalyptic Prick Party
The field around the Bog Dungeon is mostly flat, so the Horsemen Party is still a ways off when we notice them. Depending on how good their Perception is, they may not actually know how absurd these boxers are yet.
I could hide them.
I even go so far as to open my gear storage window, but then I close it with a sigh. It feels like losing, somehow. Especially if they can already see what they look like. I don't want these tools to think I'm embarrassed.
I wandered around in heart-patterned hot pink boxer briefs with Hero written across the butt for hours. I can handle whatever these dudes dish out.
Boxers Bro hides from no one!
As the other Party saunters across the field, I am entirely unsurprised to discover they're waaay too into their Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse roleplay. Anyone would be able to tell who's who, even without my Thread Reader skill.
The flashiest among them is Polemos, aka War, the Party Leader with a thirst for violence so intense Aku starts screaming in solidarity rage from its scabbard. Polemos is decked out in shiny scarlet armor with a high-tier spear. Probably Blue-Tier (highest tier below Nova), and at least Lvl 15, if not higher.
The other guy in their group is Loimos, or Pestilence, a dark magic-wielder with poison blades and green and silver armor. I guess he set his avatar preference to reflect his real-world body, since there's no way the game would purposefully design a face that ugly.
(I may accidentally mention this theory to Nightfury, out loud, in a voice that carries across the field, and Nightfury may laugh his ass off, and a red-faced Loimos may try to hit me with a curse, and it may be absolutely worth it.
It also proves I'm totally right, so I send my condolences to Loimos for such unlucky genetics. Thanatos has to hold him back from trying to stab me with a poison dagger.)
Limos, aka Famine, is a short female mage-type in grey-white robes who wields a magic wooden stave. She yawns a lot and is zoned out from the conversation more often than not. At one point, she leans her head against her staff and I'm pretty sure she falls asleep standing up.
Thanatos, Death, strikes a solemn figure in her head-to-toe black everything. Even her skin is dark, and her long dreadlocks are tied off with black bands. The only bright points on her entire avatar are her eyes: pure white, not even a pupil showing.
Something about her unnerves me more than the others, and it takes a while for me to realize what it is.
She seems to constantly engage her Stealth Skill, and she's so still and silent, I actually lose sight of her now and then when I focus on the other Players.
It makes her seem even more like a Grim Reaper, silently observing mere mortals and waiting in quiet judgment to take away our souls.
There are two other normal-looking Human Players with them, named Bob and Pineapple_Applepen. Neither of them were on the lists of Hard Mode First Clears from the first day, and I'm once again curious to know how the Four Horsemen seem to have a never-ending supply of Players willing to do their bidding.
These two normies are clearly only here to fill out the requirements for the racial Zerg Bonus Humans get if they fight in groups of 6 or more. If anything, they look a little terrified of the real party members.
The whole thing is freaking weird.
At any rate, the group's EXP grinding this morning must have been fruitful, since all four of the Horsemen are Level 14 now. Bob and Pineapple_Applepen are only Levels 9 and 10, so they must not split the EXP evenly.
But more surprising than their high levels is their diamond avatar markers.
Red, all six of them.
And not just a simple bright red to denote Player-Killers. War, Death, Pestilence, and the two nobodies all have the deep crimson markers of Players who have slaughtered tons of other Players.
Limos is the sole exception. From the descriptions I read online, it's clear she's the laziest of the group, only fighting and killing when she absolutely has to. Just like a Famine, she prefers Crowd Control Skills and AoE attacks that affect large groups all at once, and then she lets the others do the dirty work and simply accepts her portion of the EXP split.
When they're still a fair distance away from us, crazy Polemos calls out, "Sorry we're almost late! Kept coming across Player groups ripe for the killing. You know how it goes!"
Uh, nope. Do not know how that goes.
Don't get me wrong, I'm down with PvP in the right context, but I'm not the homicidal maniac Polemos seems to be.
Case in point, my own marker is still a happy, healthy green, even though I probably killed as many Players as any of these Horsemen.
The game is kind to PKers acting in self-defense; since the angry mob outside Redcap Castle was waiting to ambush and kill me, the System recognized them as the Players who technically initiated combat, so every attack I made was considered self-defense.
It's nice, because most games just automatically label whoever hits first or attacks first as the PK violator. Like if an assassin is sneaking up to attack someone, and the would-be victim notices and turns around to attack first, they'd be the one labelled the "aggressor" and would have to face the PK penalty. (Even though if they waited for the assassin to attack first, they'd probably be dead.)
Since everyone in the mob tried to kill me, even though most of them never landed a single hit, they're all going to have Orange markers for the rest of the day, which will make it extra difficult for them to enter towns or buy anything from NPC merchants.
Red markers mean you actually murdered another player, and they last for multiple days, depending on how dark the Red gets. The penalties for having a Red marker are really steep in Viren's Refuge, mostly because a lot of critics of VR say letting people murder each other so realistically without consequences will turn people into psychopaths.
One of the worst side effects of being a Red player is that you can't enter Towns at all without being arrested, so you can't use the Teleportation Portals.
I come up with a few ideas to use that fact to my advantage later.
As the Horsemen finally reach our group, I allow myself one final tiny sigh as I mentally prepare myself for whatever dick thing the Four Horsemen are going to say about my J·U·I·C·Y undies. Then I straighten my spine, hold the boxers up in all their insane glory, and paste on the smirkiest smirk I can muster.
But then the first Apocalyptic prick speaks, and my smirk slips into a grimace of rage.
"Mm mmm, please tell me that fine-ass Valkyrie chick is going to be wearing those," Loimos (Pestilence) leers, raking his eyes up and down Kara's body in an obvious once-over. "That thicc booty looks all kinds of ripe and juicy."
His too-wide nose flares and his too-thin lips curl into a lecherous sneer, and I very much want to rearrange his ugly mug with my bare fist...
But Kara's got it covered.
"Don't be absurd," she croons. "They're for you. A present!"
Loimos's whole face wrinkles into a frown. "Why would I want a present like that?"
Kara sneers. "No, you don't understand. The present's for everyone else. These are for you to to pull down over your thick head. Not having to see your nasty face is the greatest gift you could give to the world."
"Boom, roasted," I say, as ever in awe of my goddess.
Loimos's ugly face turns a violent shade of red-purple and he snarls. "YOU STUPID BIT--"
Before he can finish that oh-so-creative insult, four separate attacks land on the asshole.
Well, land on the shield Polemos (War) pulls out to block the attacks on Loimos, anyway.
He may be Ranker hack, but the fucker's FAST.
"Aww, you guys," Kara smiles at Nanuk, Taliesin, Nightfury, and me. "So sweet to attack in sync like that."
"No need for you to waste your time murdering him yourself," Nanuk assures her.
"What's wrong with all of you crazy bastards?" the Pestilence prick screams, shoving his teammate's shield away.
"We were just doing an experiment," Taliesin tells him.
"Hypothesized you couldn't physically get any uglier even if we blew your face off," Nightfury adds.
"You already look like a Picasso finger-painting–" I jeer.
"–if Picasso was drunk and having a seizure–" Nightfury inserts.
"–so if anything, we figured rearranging your features was doing you a favor," Nanuk finishes.
"I'll kill all you–" he starts to screech.
"Enough." Thanatos's voice is quiet but firm, and the simple command shuts Loimos up immediately.
Shuts everyone up, in fact.
When Death speaks so absolutely, it's hard to argue.
Finally, one person breaks the strained silence.
"What an absurd pair of boxers," Limos (Famine) says in a slow, quiet drawl.
Her matter-of-fact comment reminds me I'm still holding pink underwear, and breaks the weird, uncomfortable atmosphere Thanatos had created.
"In what way?" I ask, faux-offended. "Is it the peach? The pink? The pretty pretty princess crown?"
"It's the glitter," she replies, dead serious. "I know this is VR, but the capacity of glitter to get EVERYWHERE is a power greater even than computer code. You put those boxers on, and you're going to be finding gold sparkles in places where the sun don't shine for YEARS."
I look down, and sure enough, some of the glitter from the bubble letters has already transferred to my hands.
"Eep!" I yelp and immediately store the underwear in my spatial ring. It auto-selects a slot near the creepy, bloody +FORTITUDE items I have stored in there, and I'm in too much of a hurry to escape the clutches of glitter herpes to bother selecting another spatial slot.
It's not like it really matters where things are stored, anyway.
Something clutches my pant leg, and I look down to see Brodie, shaking violently and whimpering like a kicked puppy.
"What's wrong?" My voice is thick with concern.
Polemos groans. "Ugh, this pathetic, scared act is getting old. These damn NPCs act like I'm constantly one second away from murder."
"Aren't you, though?" Limos asks mildly. "Isn't that kind of your general state?"
Polemos grins. "Good point." He lifts his spear menacingly.
I make eye contact with Taliesin, and he immediately understands my silent intentions.
He shifts into his shadow cat form, and I put Brodie on his back. The poor Brownie lies flat on Taliesin, still shivering in fear, and tries to hide in his black fur. Taliesin winces, so I know Brodie must be pulling hard, but he tamps down the pain and lets Brodie do whatever he needs to remain calm.
I glare at Polemos, angry and confused. "What the hell kind of reaction is this? What did you do?"
With a maniacal grin, Polemos explains he was bored when he finished Foundation Village and arrived first in Gael.
I grind my teeth at the reminder he scored the first World Notification in the game. I focus on the fact that I scored Nova-tier weapons because I was thorough and took my time, but it's still frustrating.
Then I become downright appalled as Polemos goes on to admit that to alleviate his boredom, he stalked and murdered an NPC kid and his pet dog.
Taliesin gasps and backs up even farther with Brodie. "So you're the reason for that final update!"
At first, I'm not sure what Little Dude means. Then I remember one of the only updates that actually had nothing to do with me. That update made it way harder to kill an NPC now. Plus, Players can't kill kids or in-town animals at all.
If you do manage to attack or kill an NPC, a bounty goes out on you and you lose a fuck ton of Reputation points.
I realize that Polemos has such low Reputation among humans and light fae now, even NPCs like Brodie who have never met him are automatically afraid of him.
It also occurs to me that he probably has high Reputation among Dark Fae and Unseelie, though, and I'm guessing that's why he was able to trigger the opposing MSQ while grinding.
I'm not sure what face I make at the homicidal nutjob, but it must not hide my opinions of his crazy ass, because Polemos suddenly snarls and lunges his spear forward.
The attack is faster than I expected, so I have to actually engage my Dodge skill to sidestep. To hide my surprise, I yawn and level an unimpressed stare at the red-clad warrior.
"Rat bastard," he spits, annoyed I was able to Dodge.
I yawn again. "Eh. I've been called worse things by better people."
"I called him a twatwaffle a couple hours ago," Kara supplies brightly.
"I called him shit-for-brains a couple minutes ago," Nightfury adds.
"I called him an emotionally-stunted overgrown man-child with poor people skills and a recklessness bordering on psychopathy," Nanuk remarks.
I'd been nodding along, but I falter at that last one. "When did you call me that?!"
Nanuk's icy white-blue eyes pierce me, unnerving in their intensity. "A couple days ago, when Liam--er, Taliesin wouldn't stop raving about how cool you were while the game shut down for updates."
I feign a wound and use my theatrics as an excuse to stumble out of Polemos's attack range. "That kinda hurts, bruh."
"The truth always does," Nanuk nods sagely.
Taliesin rubs against my leg like a housecat, and Brodie relaxes his deathgrip enough to pat my thigh comfortingly.
"Thanks, real friends who care about me," I say. Taliesin grins, which is a little terrifying with his cat face, but is mostly adorable, and Brodie stammers out how there's no need for thanks, I'm the best, yadda yadda.
He's so caught up in being nice to me, he forgets to be scared of Polemos.
That pisses the maniac Warlord off.
"Fear me, you quivering piss-ant!" he cries.
Without a word, I scoop Brodie up, Kara and Nightfury push all the piled materials into the Merchant Sack, and Nanuk and Taliesin form a defensive line.
"Give my best to Arachne," I murmur at the little fae dude. Then Kara shoves the sack into his hands and with one final, shaky bow to me, Brodie disappears with a Crack! and a poof of smoke.
"Aaaargh!" Polemos yells his fury at losing his prey, and moves to rush us instead, but at that moment, the Countdown Timer finally goes off.
[Congratulations! LiveStream Activated! Good Luck, Players!]
Everyone freezes, knowing the video feed is now Live for both of our Parties' respective streams.
The air is tense, but Thanatos speaks, ignoring the threat of battle hanging in the air. "We'll settle this through the raid," she says. Again, her statement seems so final, so sure, that no one dares argue.
With a last snarl in our direction, Polemos turns to the two normal guys hanging back from their group.
I wonder which unlucky sod is going to get stuck waiting outside the 5-Person Dungeon, bored and lonely, when Polemos gestures at them both, and the atmosphere drastically changes.
They suddenly look even tenser than before, and Bob pales.
Polemos frowns. "You know the drill. Get a move on."
My party looks at each other in confusion, but then those expressions morph into fascinated horror when Bob and Pineapple_Applepen intensely attack each other without any hesitation.
From the way they knew what to do without any other instruction, it's clear Polemos always makes the two extras they bring along for bonuses fight to the death to see who gets to join them on the actual Dungeon Raid.
Bob ekes out a narrow victory. As the last of Pineapple's HP drains, Loimos tells the loser not to bother meeting them back at this Dungeon.
"Just tell the next one to meet us here ASAP," he orders. "We'll be clearing this Dungeon in record time, so they better be here and ready the second we exit."
That declaration snaps my own Party back to reality, and all five of us instinctively tense and turn to the Blackguard Bog Dungeon entrance.
I don't bother with any motivational speeches or asshole remarks this time.
I just unsheathe Zen'Aku and silently lead the way. I know my Party can feel my resolve, my unshakeable certainty I can lead us to victory.
Time to prove who truly reigns in this game.