92 Dumb Ass Jokes
(A/N: This chapter begins at the same moment as the previous, then continues the storyline.)
"It's a panic attack."
Nanuk's steely expression hardens. "Are you sure?"
He's asking Nightfury, but he's also instinctively moving before the answer comes, doing his part to hide their fallen teammate from view of those who don't deserve to see a god crumble.
He's asking Nightfury, but it's Kara who responds.
Her voice is certain, unshakeable...but there's a fissure, a miniscule crack in her expression, and it leaks out into that single syllable, and Nightfury doesn't know her, not really, but he knows that fragile certainty, knows what she's saying beyond her words.
"You too, Kara?" he asks quietly.
For a split second, her violet eyes dim, haunted by ghosts and nightmares. It's gone as quickly as it came, but it was there, and Nightfury saw, and Kara knows that he saw, and that should worry her, but she saw, too.
She saw the tightness of his angular jaw, saw the shadow flash across his crimson-scaled complexion, saw the understanding in his golden eyes.
She knows, now, that she's not the only one haunted by ghosts.
She nods, once, tersely.
He nods back, gently.
Nanuk takes Kara's hand, squeezes it, out of sight of the camera.
Taliesin shifts into a shadowcat and rubs against Nightfury's side.
One moment. One breath. It's all they allow themselves.
It's all they have time to allow themselves.
One deep breath.
Then they exhale, and it's as if nothing has ever gone wrong for any of them before. They switch gears seamlessly: lighten their postures, brighten their faces, laugh to show they haven't a care in the world.
The performance is on.
Kara drops to Erebus, determined to help him find his breath, too. She gazes into his vivid gray eyes, and not for the first time, she feels that flash of familiarity, as if she knew this precious boy in a previous life.
Or maybe she simply recognizes herself in his pained, tortured expression. Recognizes what she sees in the mirror on her own bad days.
Either way, it's up to her to ease Erebus's troubled mind, and she'll allow nothing to distract her.
The others leave her to it, knowing they can't all help without overwhelming their leader even more.
Knowing, instinctively, that Kara will know the words to heal.
The guys take off to attract the next mobs, (and thereby attract the LiveStream camera) to give Kara and Erebus space and privacy.
Taliesin shifts back to human, and Nightfury tussles his hair, a silent thank you for the quiet comfort he'd given earlier. "Erebus is the biggest asshole in Viren's Refuge," he says to start off their planning session.
Nightfury's voice crackles with concern, but his lips curve up into a smile, and it's only partially an act because honestly, that statement doesn't come close to encapsulating Erebus's place in this game, and fuck if he doesn't find Erebus's assholery secretly endearing.
He continues, ensuring everyone understands the gravity of the situation. "Him soloing that raging mob outside the last Dungeon is the only thing saving us from being targeted by every last player in the game. If they thought he was vulnerable, if they thought they could attack him..."
'We can't let anyone know.'
They all think it, and this knowledge spurs them into action.
It'll be a hot minute before another team can defeat that Hidden Boss, so they figure they should be able to fake the Counter-Curse's effects for now. They decide to make it seem like the Counter-Curse is nothing more than a temporary Severe Injury Pain State followed by a Severely Weakened State that only lasts the length of the Dungeon.
Erebus will have to fake it hard when they get out of the Dungeon, but if anyone can, it's their insane leader.
"I feel bad," Taliesin admits in a downcast murmur as he half-heartedly slices a grindylow into pieces. "My first thought when I heard that jerk Lantern Man's final words was 'Ha! No way some dumb curse is going to bother Erebus. Heck, I bet he uses it to somehow break the game again!'"
"Don't feel bad for thinking that," his brother admonishes.
"Yeah kid, hell, we ALL thought that," Nightfury gruffly agrees. "I bet the viewers STILL think that. It's Erebus. It's his whole persona, his schtick."
"Besides, who's to say he won't still find some way to retaliate?" Nanuk adds with a wry smile, freezing three mobs for Taliesin to stab.
Taliesin huffs a laugh, recognizing the truth of his brother's words, but it's not the exuberant, joyful sound it usually is. He can't get that scream out of his head.
He's never heard a sound like that.
He's never heard pain like that.
Nightfury moves next to him, a solid presence. The Draegkyn attacks, four headshots in rapid succession, then looks down at Taliesin, and there's a savage gleam in his draconian eyes.
"Who's to say we won't find a way to retaliate for him?"
A thrill races through Taliesin at the thought. Vengeance. Yes. He answers Nightfury's simmering fury with a fierce grin of his own. Nightfury offers his fist, and Taliesin bumps it, securing their pact.
"Are you sure they can't hear us on this tactic channel?" Taliesin asks, worried about anything that might jeopardize their plans. "I know other players won't but..."
Nightfury nods, definite. "Yes. I turned off Eavesdrop. It was all explained in the expanded LiveStream Details on the main Vir-Tech page."
"There were over 30 pages of text; when did you have time to read that?" Nanuk asks, surprised.
Shrugging, Nightfury shoots down a crow mob then rubs the back of his neck, self-conscious. "At breakfast. I thought there might be something important in it, and since we were about to do a LiveStream I just thought, well."
Nanuk's speechless for a bit, then he grins, and it seems natural this time. "You're the quiet, studious type then, huh? Wouldn't have expected it."
Nanuk chuckles. "I'm surprised I didn't see it sooner, to be honest. You don't become that socially awkward outta nowhere. You're a nerd, aren't you?"
Taliesin snorts. "Like you're one to talk, bro."
Nanuk looks affronted. "Shut it, you."
"I read that post, too, at breakfast."
The quiet, raspy voice immediately draws their attention, and they turn, as one, to see their favorite D'Raven, looking wan and pale and more than a little worse for the wear...
Alive and standing tall on the platform they'd unconsciously chosen to fight nearby, just in case Erebus was able to join them.
The smiles that break out on Chaos Party's faces aren't forced at all this time.
"Well, that's only natural, isn't it? You're an even bigger gamer nerd than your lizard boyfriend!" Nanuk calls out as he renews his efforts to take out every mob in the vicinity.
"Nanuk, I swear to the gods, if you don't shut your damn trap—" Nightfury grumbles, but his glare doesn't quite do its usual damage since he can't keep the dopey, relieved smile off his face.
His golden eyes slide to meet Kara's violet gaze. 'Thank you,' he mouths silently.
She shakes her lightly. 'Don't thank me. Not for this,' her expression says. And Nightfury gets it. Any one of them would do whatever they could to help that lovable jackass, and none of them would be doing it for the thanks.
Kara laughs, and rolls her eyes, and squeezes Erebus's hand one last time before she dives into battle and pretends she doesn't have a heart.
Knowing he can leave the current mobs up to her, Taliesin immediately shifts back to his cat form so he can leap across the battleground and get up onto Erebus's platform.
Nightfury, Nanuk, and Kara sweep up all the mobs, leaving Taliesin to explain their plan to Erebus and keep any stray mobs from attacking.
Erebus in turn tells them all about the 90-minute in-game deadline they have to finish the Dungeon.
"What the actual FUCK is wrong with this damn game?" Nightfury can't help but shout, frustrated beyond belief.
"I'm angry too," Nanuk says, though his calm voice belies that idea, "but for this, I have to say I agree with the AI. This game isn't normal, and the player experience isn't normal. I'd rather they play it safe and evaluate whether a player is sound and fit to keep going; it's better than letting people suffer."
"Ugh, get out of here with all that 'Sense' and 'Logic' nonsense," Kara groans.
Nanuk hides his grin, knowing he's won this round and deciding to be the bigger person and not gloat.
"I can feel you smirking from all the way over here, you smug jerk," Kara gripes, then twists low and pulls off a horizontal Crescent Strike to topple six mobs in one go.
Flinching a little, Nanuk turns away from his violent friend and calls out to Erebus, "Speaking of sense, I think it's time to turn Eavesdrop back on, Boxer Boss! If we keep it off too long, it might look even more suspicious. Everyone, remember not to mention anything incriminating, and 'let it slip' that Erebus is Severely Weakened until the Boss dies."
"Aye aye, Nan," Erebus calls back, and if his jaunty salute isn't quite as perky and devil-may-care as usual, no one comments on it. They're just glad to see he's on the way back to normal. "Aaaand we're live, people!"
The first thing Erebus does to welcome the LiveStreamers back is toss the grindylow Taliesin had just Stunned high into the air for Nightfury to shoot down. Nightfury doesn't disappoint, landing a perfect headshot on the creature, and the two share a matching victorious grin.
Then Nightfury pulls out the silver flask, sends a cheer to the LiveStreamers, and takes a long swallow.
"Yeet yeet!" Erebus crows, laughing obnoxiously and putting his hands on his hips.
"You look like Captain Underpants mid-goth phase!" Nightfury snarks.
"Your ugly ass pink hat clashes HORRIBLY with your red hair and dragonscales!"
"It's FADED RED you fucker!"
"Ahh, I missed this," Taliesin sighs happily.
Kara giggles in agreement. Too thrilled to have the band back together, she's a tad overexuberant with her next attack and impales three mobs at once with a single motion.
Out of habit, she then tosses the mobs over to Erebus to dispose of.
Only to immediately realize her mistake.
"Tits! Liam, watch out!"
Taliesin manages to slash two of the water demons out of the way, but the third rams into Erebus, who is half-a-second too slow getting Zen up.
The poor water demon is hit with some sort of knock-out spell, takes a buttload of damage, then flies almost 50 meters before crashing into the water with a belly-flop that looks so brutal, it even makes the players wince in sympathy.
In the silence that follows, everyone turns to stare wide-eyed at Erebus.
"Hot damn, Arachne," is all he says.
"What?" Nanuk, Nightfury, and Kara wonder.
"Awesome," Taliesin says, gleaming eyes focused on Erebus's rose-patterned boxer briefs.
Confused, the others follow his gaze and realize the underwear's pattern is moving. The roses are all more in bloom than before, and they've transitioned into a darker, bloodier crimson. Several of the wicked stems are curved like whips, scarlet blood dripping from their thorny tips, and as they slowly retract back to their positions, it suddenly makes sense why that poor demon mob never stood a chance.
The silky white background material morphs to shiny black, making the bloody thorns and petals stand out even more, and Kara's never thought a flower looked more sinister.
Then Erebus turns, trying to get a better look at whatever's happening to his undergarments, and Kara starts laughing so hard she cries.
Across the back of the boxers, one word magically appears in hot pink calligraphy:
"Boxers Bro will forever live on in infamy after this!" Nightfury gleefully proclaims, taking a screenshot and sending it over the text Party Chat.
"Huh? What are you—GODS DAMNIT ARACHNE, I AM GOING TO MURDER YOU."
Unequipping his own pants to show off his Lucky Shamrock boxers, Taliesin throws a peace sign and winks at the camera. "Boxers Bro limited edition underwear—they pack a punch AND make a statement! Only available at Silken Strands!"
Erebus doesn't even notice Little Dude's impromptu commercial break, too focused on twisting his torso to glare, red-faced at his own ass. "I am NEVER telling her another damn story about Robbie ever again, that blasted spider witch."
"Yo Erebus, are you sitting on F5?" Kara calls out.
"Huh?" Erebus replies, confusion distracting him from his ire.
"Cuz that ass is REFRESHING!" she yells, then breaks down, cackling.
Taliesin whoops and has to clutch his stomach he's laughing so hard, Nightfury groans at the horrible joke, and Nanuk simply whacks another mob in the head with his staff, choosing to ignore the rest of his party's shenanigans.
Erebus looks shell-shocked.
Even if he were at full-capacity AGI, he'd probably still be frozen between absolute horror that he once again has words splayed across his ass and overwhelming glee that the hottest woman he's ever seen thinks his ass is refreshing.
Before he can decide where to land, emotionally, Taliesin jumps in.
"Ooh ooh this reminds me! I saw the best joke in the comments of your Boxers Bro remix." Little Dude ahems to set the mood, then nudges Erebus with his pointy elbow and waggles his eyebrows.
"Did you just butt dial? Because I swear that ass is calling me!"
Nightfury's groan is so visceral, the entire world probably feels it. He chugs the flask, and tries to hide his disappointment when he remembers it is not, in fact, alcoholic.
Taliesin, predictably, is the one laughing hardest at his own joke.
Kara's giggling hard enough, she almost drops her spear.
Then another voice calls out, and she's so shocked, she actually does drop it.
"Arrr, call me a pirate, cuz I'd travel the world for that booty!"
Poor Erebus is so shook at this point, he has to sit down.
Nightfury can't believe Nanuk has such a good pirate impression.
Taliesin's the only one unsurprised, but he still has to race over and give his big bro a high five. Nanuk's icy eyes twinkle as he slaps his brother's hand.
Then everyone turns to Nightfury.
And poor boy doesn't get it at first. "What?" he asks, discreetly wiping his face, worried he may have been splattered by mob blood.
The others just keep looking. Even Erebus looks eager.
"Oh shit," Nightfury says finally, face reddening as he gets what they're waiting for. "Um..uhh...er..."
He splutters a bit, then forlornly realizes there are officially no more mobs to distract him, and also realizes there's absolutely zero chance the rest of his dumbass team is going to move on to the next area until he makes a dumb ass joke.
"Fine," he huffs, then looks up at Erebus. "Uh...so...I'm an asshole. Will that stop me from getting in yours?"
The silence that answers this joke is deafening.
Both Erebus and Nightfury turn so red so fast it looks like the game glitched.
"BAHAHAHAHA THAT JOKE IS NOT THE SAME, NIGHTFURY." Taliesin is screaming with uncontained delight.
Nightfury wishes for the sweet release of death.
"Damn dragon, way to go Next Level!" Kara hypes, though it's hard to hear over her gasping wheezes as she laughs so hard she almost passes out.
Taliesin races over to pluck the flask from Nightfury's slack grip. Schooling his face as serious as possible, he takes one drink, then pours one out into the Bog.
"What was that for?" Nightfury asks.
Taliesin places a hand over his heart. "I had to pour one out for all the #eury fans out there who just straight up died."