90 Countering Counter-Curses
I slam back into the bog with an epic splash, and a howling wind tears through to disperse the mist and the remaining pondweed mobs.
A series of notifications fill my vision the second the fog disappears:
You have proven your worth as a Leader, but now the true test begins. Can your teammates survive without your strong abilities to lead the way? Can they help you survive this aqueous death trap without the attribute most linked to success?
Reward: If you survive this Dungeon Raid, you will be endowed with an Active Curse Skill.]
My heart slams in my chest as I read this insanity, but before I can even comprehend how royally screwed I am, my eyes are drawn to the notifications over-writing the initial Curse.
I don't know how I know.
I just do.
I don't even have to look. I feel it in my soul.
I look anyway.
"MY FUCKING PANTS."
I sincerely consider drowning and just being done with it all.
"Goodbye cruel world," I whisper melodramatically, then close my eyes and let my head fall back on the water. I'm floating spread-eagle on the surface of the Bog water, pantsless and pissed. I hear the splashing of my teammates rushing over to check on me, and I can only hope they're being careful to avoid the sinkholes.
"Erebus, don't do it! You still have so much left to live for!" Taliesin frantically screeches in my ear.
Whoops. Forgot the Party Voice Chat was on.
"The dumbass can't actually die, idiot. We're in a damn game." Nightfury's usual grumpy grumble sounds shot through with a tinge of...is that...concern?
"Even so, we can't be letting our Party Leader die from such an obviously underhanded, bullshit Counter Curse, now can we?" Kara's low voice usually flows over my senses like rich, hot caramel; this time, however, she's spitting pure venom.
Somehow, I think she might be even more pissed than I am.
"You can't give up. The Horsemen will be insufferable if you die," Nanuk reminds me sternly, and I have to admit, it's a damn good argument for survival.
The splashing gets closer and closer, until I'm hit with a cold spray from their harried arrival, and I sense my team hovering over me. With a long-suffering sigh, I open my eyes to see four faces contorted in concern.
"I swear to Danu, the second we get out of here, I'm auctioning off this damn Guild Token and buying 100 pairs of pants."
There's a silent beat, then everyone bursts out laughing, relief lightening their haggard expressions. I try to hold onto my frown, but one corner of my mouth can't help but quirk up into a little half-smile.
Nanuk's the first to really comprehend all my words, and his laugh cuts off with a strangled choke. "Guild Token?!"
I pull up the Item Description for the Guild Creation Token and make it visible, partially to show my Party the sweet reward we scored, but mostly to show off to the viewers and start making this video famous.
While they ooh and ahh over the Guild Creation Token details, which I give exactly zero fucks about, I secretly scroll through the rest of the Rewards.
For Last Hit Bonus, I gained the HinkyPunk Lantern, which I place in storage next to the Ankou Lantern I never got around to selling. Immediately, the two items start vibrating in their respective storage boxes, and I make a plan to hit up Vulcan ASAP to see how I might go about combining these bad boys.
I also see that I was supposed to be rewarded with a level increase to my Ignis Fatuus Will o' Wisp racial skill, but since I'd already MAXed it out, I get +5 Intelligence instead. Not a bad deal, overall.
Finally, I get this nifty gem that looks like a shiny blue will o' wisp flame. On its own, it's basically just a +3 AGI talisman, but when these types of gems are affixed to armor (by a professional smithy), they usually add multiple passives. Plus, once they're part of your gear, they stop taking up space as an equipped Talisman or Ornament, which you can only have 5 of right now.
Kind of a dick move to give me a +AGI gem when I've literally JUST been Cursed and can't use it, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised at the dev's assholery. I wordlessly toss it to Nightfury instead.
He catches it more out of instinct than anything and looks ready to bite my head off for throwing shit at him, until he realizes what it is.
"What the fu—oh." His cheeks flush, and his crimson scales shine brighter. He coughs and won't quite meet my eye as he equips the gem. It's enough to push him over the +20 AGI mark, and immediately, he rises up until he's only ankle-deep in the water. "Er. Thanks."
"It's nothing." I take a swig from my Nightfury flask for emphasis. "Just didn't feel like carrying your ass through this shit Dungeon anymore," I tell him lightly.
Nightfury rolls his eyes and reaches down to grasp my hand and pull me to my feet. "Sure sure, whatever you have to tell yourself."
"D'aww," Kara coos, fluttering her gloriously long eyelashes, "did Erebus do something nice again and then immediately try to be a dick about it?"
My nose wrinkles as I frown, disgruntled. Kara freaking cackles at me.
One of my standard, ready-made retorts pops into my mouth, ready to ruin whatever misconceptions these people have about me, when Nightfury lets go of my hand and I suddenly sink chest-deep in the frigid gray Bog water.
There's a reason the suggested minimum AGI for this Dungeon is +15.
I thrash about, trying to pick up some speed to rise out of the water, but it's useless.
In fact, my entire body feels pretty useless. I'd been so used to my advanced AGI, it now feels like I'm not moving at all. Plus, the water has a Slow Movement debuff, so even with all my strength, I can barely lift my arms out from under the water, can barely put one foot in front of the other.
Nightfury chuckles at how we've switched places, and Taliesin cracks a joke about how I'm an old man now, moving as slowly as Nanuk does when he's getting out of bed in the morning. Nanuk grumbles, looking betrayed, then grapples his kid brother into a head lock. Kara cheers as Taliesin shifts into a goat demon and Nanuk has a mini-heart attack and drops the terrifying demon child who's now a foot taller than he is. When Taliesin responds by giggling in his cute kid voice, everyone shudders and Nightfury surreptitiously crosses himself like a Catholic nun, and no one even makes fun of him because it's objectively horrifying to see a giant demon goat monster giggle.
And essentially, all of this means that 4/5 of Chaos Party are having a grand old time while I'm slowly drowning; no one is panicking, because why would they, it's just a temporary movement curse, and there's no reason I wouldn't be fine.
And even when all the pondweed mobs that had blown away come crashing back as one giant Pondweed Monster, no one panics. They just kick its ass, while I do nothing but get splashed and tumbled about by the aftershocks of their assaults, because my reflexes are practically non-existent, and I can't seem to remember how to even dodge water, and all I can do is watch, helpless, as my friends are attacked, right in front of me.
The quiet, sane part of me knows that they're more than capable of defeating a lame plant monster by themselves, no matter how jacked it is.
It's hard to listen to that sound reasoning, though, when the rest of my brain is shrieking at my limbs to MOVE, DAMNIT, DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING.
They need you, and you can't do anything, you're weak, you're useless, they're going to be hurt, they're going to die, they're going to DIE, and you're going to LET THEM, it's all YOUR FAULT—
Nightfury, relishing his newfound freedom of movement, goes nuts on the monster, using every major attack in his arsenal, and lands the final hit with a Triple Explosion that lights up the bog for 100 meters in every direction.
I lose sight of my entire party in the red-orange glow of the explosion's animated effects.
This has happened before.
The horrified scream rips violently from my throat.
Tears stream down my cheeks, lost amongst the wet drips cascading from my hair.
My voice is nothing but a harsh rasp, as words tumble from my lips uncontrollably, "Nonono not again, no, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, please be alive, I'm sorry I'm useless, I couldn't protect you—"
"Whoops, guess you've had enough," Nightfury says loudly, huffing a boisterous laugh.
He reaches over me, and I flinch, jerking back, except I don't go anywhere because I'm still frozen and useless and broken, and Nightfury's draconian eyes flash with worry and fear. Laughing even louder, he makes a big deal out of taking away my silver flask, flashing an exaggerated grimace to the camera and forcing the camera to zoom in on the ridiculous dragon engraving. And all the while, he's grabbing my other hand with his, and using my fingers to swipe open the LiveStream options, so he can turn off "Eavesdrop," turning the viewers deaf to anything said over the Tactic Talk Party-Only Voice Chat.
"Erebus?" Kara only manages a single word, but it's still fraught with worry, and somehow, I recognize it, and the tears come even faster because it reminds me of Xiuying.
My sister, broken, because I am useless, and broken, too.
"Nightfury, you know that's just blackberry juice, right?" Nanuk says. "He's too serious about the game to jeopardize our run with alcohol."
"I know that. But they don't." He gestures widely, indicating the audience. He sighs, then catches himself, looks at the camera, shrugs and winks, and takes a huge swig.
"What's going on? Why did Erebus scream..." Taliesin cuts himself off, clearly remembering that bloodcurdling sound, and clearly wishing he could scrub the memory from his mind forever.
Nightfury takes a deep, shuddering breath, before piercing all of Chaos Party with his most serious, golden gaze.
"It's a panic attack. And if we can't help him regain control, we are all going to die."