Author's note: I wrote this almost 5k words chapter and felt quite spent, and since my schedule keeps getting delayed, I'll just take this week off and prepare some chapters beforehand (and read... a lot.). The second (delayed) chapter should come out on Wednesday though.
"So there are other players hidden nearby?" Icicle pondered. He looked around the huge clearing only to see a few silhouettes of some pretty well hidden players in the surrounding forest.
"So many players!" Seeing the message, Enna exclaimed.
"Any advice?" Faura was quick to calm down. She saw how anxious FieryRed was. That redhead was rearing to go since the start.
"Whatever you do, don't attack the squirrels." Icicle smiled faintly.
Thousands of rodents made their way into the clearing from the south. Rumbling sounds of the quaking earth made many players shudder in awe.
As the squirrel army closed in, five meter tall creature stood on its hind paws behind them, emitting a majestic aura. Its fur was entirely red, its eyes radiated ice cold killing intent. [Red Devil] let out a shrill squeak and the army of over 3000 squirrels moved forward in unison. The rest stayed back, waiting for orders.
On the other side of the clearing appeared another 5m tall creature. However, it didn't have to stand on its hindpaws. [Primeval Direwolf] emanated ancientness and formidable, sharp aura. As it roared, the shockwave it emitted caused the ground to quake. The stones and broken twigs on the ground were sent airborne, incapable of withstanding the violent force.
Tens of thousands of wolves bared their razor sharp teeth and howled fiercely! As they did, they split into three groups. Two went for the left and right flank, engaging in combat with the veteran squirrels perched on top of the trees. The middle horde went straight ahead for the little squirrel settled on top of the fenced stump.
Icicle's pupils constricted as estimately 500 squirrels appeared next to him, all entering defensive stances. They were clearly trying to protect their princess from harm.
Faura and her party members stared, they didn't know why Icicle stayed behind. Was he tasked to protect that little squirrel as well?
They saw Icicle bowing to the squirrels. The leader of the 500 or so squad was a reddish squirrel at least 2.5m tall, with a diagonal scar on its right cheek. It looked at Icicle coldly and as if snorting, it turned away, not even putting him in his eyes.
Enna blinked twice seeing the little squirrel, Leila, thrashing about. "What is that little thing doing?" she asked absentmindedly.
"Can't we just go?!" FieryRed interrupted in an anxious tone. So many players were already engaged in fighting yet her group stayed behind like sore losers.
"Look how many players died already. Staying behind to reap the benefits isn't wrong. It's smart." Inferno corrected his friend. "You're too impulsive."
"There seems to be a change." Headshot watched with interest as the little squirrel squeaked constantly, arguing with the leader of the group.
Faura and her friends stared at the pop up. They looked at the party window and saw themselves among the five hundred squirrels.
"This..." Enna couldn't comprehend what has just transpired.
"Our new friend seems quite influential." SilentStep smirked. He wanted to prepare a battle plan when a message appeared in the party chat.
All of the members smirked, leaving FieryRed embarrassed. "I'll kill him!" she stamped her feet.
"Now, now. Icicle earned us something huge. Let's not disappoint his trust." Faura smiled and led her party to mingle with the squirrel troops.
Icicle looked at the status windows in front of him.
He went to Leila to thank her. As he patted her head three times, there came a series of blows!
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Icicle's face flew from the left to the right, distorting heavily in the process. He squeezed the squirrel's cheeks in return.
Patting her a few more times to show his gratitude, Icicle left some more acorns for Leila and scurried to join the war.
"To think I've lost over 20 HP just from her patting. What kind of overpowered boss level creature is she?" Icicle shook his head.
He made sure that Adian stayed around as well. He was his hidden trump card if any trouble arose. Confirming that Adian was positioned well, Icicle joined the fray.
Crowds of players were hidden in the forests, overwhelmed by the sheer wolf numbers. The squirrels perched on the trees had an easy time with the wolf force, employing their ranged attacks, but for the players it was a one-sided slaughter. Some of them tried to attack the wounded squirrels to gain something. What came afterwards left piles of blood and bones on the ground...
Icicle and his group proceeded with the plan. They were circling around the squirrel troops, finishing off the wounded wolves. Adventurers nearby realized that it's the way to go if they want to profit big time and tried to mimic the tactic.
Icicle killed yet another wolf and some blue equipment dropped. He immediately picked it up. "What right do you have to steal that?" came a distrungtled voice beside him.
Icicle craned his head to the right and noticed a party of 8 people staring at him. He completely disregarded them and entered the fray again.
"You think you can ignore me?" Barduk howled as he charged at Icicle, swinging his two-handed heavy sword.
Icicle felt the brunt of the blow, his shoulderblade shuddered, pain quickly spreading through his body. "He must have added quite a lot of strength." Icicle frowned. He had 10 Defense, yet the blow did so much damage.
Icicle glanced at the blade stuck on his leather armor and focused on the attacker. The baldy in front of him sneered and pulled the sword back. "Are you in the mood to talk now? Give us back the item or you're dead!" he screamed.
"Trying to extort me, eh?" Icicle hated those kind of people the most. They're trying to play the good guys and fail even at that. "If you're scamming at least do it right!" he yelled.
Icicle backhanded Barduk with his left hand, sending him flying.
Barduk was unprepared, so he staggered and fell on his butt. He bit his tongue in the process. His party members quickly gathered around him.
"H-Hahahaha!" Barduk laughed wildly, blood splurting from his mouth. "You're bold! Let's see how long can you keep it up! Kill him!" he howled.
Icicle was watching the whole situation unfurl. He pitied those fools. Bunch of inexperienced players trying to make it big in the Virtual Reality. "Tsk, tsk, this isn't a 4 man LAN game." he thought.
Noticing that the mage in Barduk's party was about to cast the spell, Icicle made his move.
The squirrel veteran in front of Icicle was engaged in combat with three high level wolves. It was currently struggling to keep its position. Due to its negligence, one of the wolf claws was about to land on its chest when something pulled it back. The creature looked at his savior and saw Icicle smiling gently. It felt thankful.
Fireball followed by a lightning bolt landed on the squirrel's body, making it stare wide eyed. As it turned back, another projectile came flying. The wooden shaft of an arrow dangled from its fur, incapable of piercing the skin. The squirrel veteran saw a couple of humans pointing their weapons at it and became enraged!
Icicle quickly took its spot and engaged the wolves to fill in the blanks. He didn't have the leeway to look at the massacre, but he focused his hearing on that area.
Orange blur moved at astounding speed, appearing next to the 8 man party. It swung its claws, using a hidden skill of the [Red Devil's Tribe]!
Red lights in a form of a claw emerged from the squirrel's paw, making five, razor sharp sanguine streaks flash diagonally. As the streaks approached the players, another set of red lights materialized from the opposite direction making a large "X" mark.
"ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" six players immediately died, looking at the terrifying -200 and above on their screens.
Barduk and his Paladin friend barely clinged to their lives. They looked in astonishment at Icicle, who appeared to them as a devil. He used the squirrel as a meatshield and made it kill them!
They saw that the squirrel was panting, looking extremely tired. They wanted to retreat and recover their health bars. The Paladin cast some minor healing. He was about to turn around and run when a red figure appeared behind them.
Thunk! Thunk! Thud! Thunk!
Two slices of the sword followed by a shield bash and another slash!
Two pillars of light appeared in the distance. FieryRed who just now quickly disposed of the two players smiled brightly as she picked up the loot. The Paladin that died dropped a shield that was better than hers, so she quickly equipped it. As soon as she was done, she skipped to killsteal yet another wolf.
Meanwhile Faura who reluctantly allowed FieryRed to run around the area focused on the teamwork of her group. Enna was about to heal injured Headshot when he smilingly said "No need, my experience bar is almost full. Don't waste your mana, I'll level up!"
SilentStep entered stealth and roamed around the wolves, sneaking in cheap blows from behind. He specifically targeted wounded leaders which dropped [Rare] equipment. [Elite] grade creatures often had powerful skills to retaliate with, so it was best to avoid the danger. SilentStep left the weak wolves to the squirrels. They disposed of them quickly due to their low health bars. As soon as SilentStep assassinated one of the wounded wolf leaders, he picked up the loot and entered the shadows.
Faura, Inferno, Enna and Headshot saw how Icicle dealt with the other party. It was Faura's idea to send FieryRed to help him out. As it turned out, Icicle didn't need the help at all...
What they learned from the situation is that they can deter the players from stealing their loot with the assistance of their raid group. Whenever SilentStep or FieryRed were about to grab the items, the rest used fireballs, thunderbolts and arrows to make other players stay at bay.
Of course when it came to loot there were always some brave souls who didn't fear danger. Faura's party was thus often marked as "Temporary Player Killers". Most gamers would feel anxious about it, but would they, who saw how Icicle used the squirrel as a meatshield, feel troubled? Of course not!
After two or three episodes where nearby "vultures" tried to steal their loots, Faura made sure that the projectiles landed on the squirrels. All the blood and gore around made everyone else anxious about messing with them. Those squirrels weren't slightly bit hostile towards Faura and her party, but when it came to others, those rodents didn't hesitate to kill!
As players were wondering how to earn more loot, experience and levels, the ones outside who were late for the event and those who died within its borders could only shake their heads helplessly.
"Damn it, we were late!" some of them screamed.
Since the player placement was regional, many people knew each other. Thus, the news in that specific starting area spreaded fast. Lots of people felt unlucky. They banged on the invisible barrier that covered [Red Devil's Tribe] to release their anger. Every time they did, a window would pop up, informing them that this area was off limits during the duration of the event.
This especially tempting piece of news quickly reached the forums, where players started clamoring about how the event came to be, if it's replayable and most importantly the possiblity of many high level people emerging.
Meanwhile in Albatros Company, Lisa and her two coworkers, Jack and Carl, watched the screens filled with information with interest. There were many events going on across the globe, but the high scale raid was absolutely the first. No one had the power to barge into the wolves' lair and bring out the princess yet. Not only that, players weren't even aware of her existence, it was a hidden quest after all!
"Surprisingly, there were a lot of early risers." Lisa commented as she drank her morning tea. She was quite amused. To think that so many players joined an event that wasn't even planned! The news about it wasn't spread either! What's more shocking is that it happened only 11 hours after the game launched, equaling 22 hours in Loiterous.
"How are they doing?" Lisa asked, reclining on the office chair. Jack and Carl immediately looked at the data on the screen and answered "Not too shabby."
"Hmm, this is really interesting. We made sure that [Ingrained Enmity] event didn't have a predetermined ending, so it all depends on the efforts of the players. It was meant for level 15s though..." Lisa looked at the empty chair beside her, where Nix previously sat. "That lazy girl left early and didn't see what happened. She will be in for quite a shock when she wakes up." her tiny mouth held a teasing smile.
Icicle retreated back and ate some wild boar's meat. He had to admit that Adian's cooking was quite good. As soon as his stamina recovered a little, he went back into the fight.
Faura glanced in Icicle's direction from time to time. She was curious. How can it be that most of Enna's healing is focused on Icicle? What's more, her party gained four to five levels, yet Icicle was only level 7!
As time passed, she grew more and more anxious. Finally, she sent a message.
The reply came soon after.
Faura gaped at the message. Enna who stood beside her shook her head and muttered "Nix is scary."
"Keep an eye on his health bar." Faura sighed and started surveilling the battlefield again.
Both sides were at a deadlock. No one could gain any advantage yet the blood kept on flowing, forming puddles. Judging by the number of players that were left, only around 2000 survived the initial onslaught. Most of the survivors utilized the same hit and run tactic Icicle and his group did.
The situation didn't look as good as it should for the wolves, so their leader - [Primeval Direwolf], entered the fray. [Red Devil] who up till now stood on the side rushed after him!
Two figures moved quickly through the air, arriving in the middle of the clearing in a flash.
Squirrels and wolves flew away from the impact, lightly or heavily injured. Just their leaders' landing shook the soil, sending dirt and stones flying around aimlessly, forming a 3m deep crater.
The staredown didn't last long, the ancestors moved into action!
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Paws and claws smashed against each other, leaving shockwave after shockwave coursing through the ground.
Both sides now engaged in a full scale war! Every soldier on the battlefield was sent to battle!
"Faura, get your team back here!" Icicle screamed in the party chat. Every player in the party was able to hear him clearly, as if through VoiP.
Faura sent SilentStep in stealth to bring FieryRed back, by force if need be. She quickly retreated with Enna, Inferno and Headshot in tow. "What's the situation?" she asked impatiently. She kept to the left side and flanked the wolves to earn the most loot. Icicle was located right down the middle from the start and he appeared to have some quest to fulfill, so his information should be better.
"We need to defend the little one behind us. Make sure not to let any wolf through!" Icicle didn't bother explaining. Judging by the color of Leila's fur and her strategic placement, the rest could infer that this little squirrel is [Red Devil]'s descendant.
Large group amassing over 10000 wolves approached the princess's location. At least half of it focused on the earlier sent group of elite black and reddish squirrels.
Whichever player survived the onslaught retreated back. However, there were at least 500 players engaged in combat on the flanks, helping the primeval squirrels deal with the wolves there. Thus, the whole line amounted to around 2000 members, squirrels and players included.
Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!
One after the other, the wolves jumped ferociously, trying to break through the defensive line. The squirrels and players fought back. Fireballs flew, wind blades whistled through the air, lightning bolts jolted the wolves and constant warm light enveloped the players, restoring their HP.
From time to time, a wall of earth appeared in front of some players, blocking the charge of the wolves. In this chaotic place Icicle couldn't spot a single Water Mage.
"Why are there no Water Mages?" Icicle asked Faura who was in the middle of casting a [Lightning bolt]. She was a mage herself so she should know something.
"I heard that there's only one instructor for them. Her fee for teaching you the skills is 5 gold coins. You can also take a thorough, intensive training course to learn them. Some of my friends that tried to become a Water Mage said that the training course takes at least two weeks. Thus, no one has the class yet. However, I also heard that there are other academies outside of beginner area that don't require such a harsh training. I suppose most of the candidates will go there." Faura took a breath and continued "When I first saw the instructor, that female teacher looked more like a swordsman than a mage to me. That's probably why her course is different than usual. Since there are four starting areas, she's probably one of the unique NPCs."
"I see, thanks." Icicle memorized the information, at the same time slicing his sword at the nearby direwolf. He looked around and saw that [Grey Alpha Wolves] he encountered before were level 11. "Can you see their levels?" Icicle pointed at [Minor White Direwolves] tangled in combat nearby.
"Yes I can. [Minor White Direwolf] 2 star creature, level 14."
Icicle turned pensive. "No wonder it took the herbs and massive amount of healing potions, those 2 star creatures were actually level 14."
The wolf onslaught continued, large quantities of dead bodies belonging to both sides littered the floor. Adian was in the center of the conflict, casually swinging his axe. His sharp weapon tore through the wolves with ease.
Suddenly a violet colored wolf that was 3m tall emerged from its pack.
"Here he is! [Fleeting Violet Direwolf]!" Adian licked his lips "I waited for a long time, bastard!"
Adian left his position and charged at the formidable wolf. The wolf pack immediately surrounded him. [Fleeting Violet Direwolf] glanced around with its thunder-like gaze. Violet sparks crackled through its majestic, velvet-like fur. It howled fiercely and the wolves nearby dispersed. They left the space for Adian and their leader to battle. As per previous orders, they attacked Leila's fenced position on the tree stump.
Two sides, both level 45. Adian who was a Warrior versus [Fleeting Violet Direwolf], a boss level creature. This was Adian's true target from the beginning. [Fleeting Violet Direwolf] was the leader of the wolf pack. Atlas was merely one of its subordinates. If he eliminated this [Fleeting Violet Direwolf], the other wolves will lose their backbone and won't dare to harass the residents of Vilen Town anymore.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Explosion after explosion of violet light, Adian dodged, swinging his two one-handed axes down with unbridled force.
Just like the main bout of [Red Devil] and [Primeval Direwolf], the outcome of this very battle will heavily sway the battlefield.
Meanwhile Icicle and the squirrels' Protectors group struggled to keep their formation together. Many players died to the onslaught of wolves, either by having their Clerics killed or due to the lack of necessary equipment. They were too lowleveled for the event. The defenses became thinner and thinner as the time passed, making the situation for the rest of the defenders more and more difficult.
However, those players that managed to survive till now killed a lot of wounded wolves. Their levels progressed quickly, allowing them to equip the dropped equipment. Slowly, those unremarkable characters became stronger.
But being powerful meant that you can hold on against two to three low level wolves. Currently, each player in the defensive formation was assaulted by three wolves, some even had to tangle with six to ten of them. This unfavorable situation was turning out to become a one-sided slaughter. The squirrels used their hidden moves, exhausting all of their strength, dispatching countless assailants.
However, the lines of defense were quickly crumbling. Soon, there was one wolf that made it through to the squirrel princess.
The rest of the pack let out excited howls.
Icicle saw the situation and quickly reacted. He looked at the squirrel, smiled brightly and made a patting gesture.
The air around the squirrel princess surged, faintly visible red ripples appeared around, giving Leila a majestic look, similar to her grandfather - [Red Devil]. As the inheritor of his bloodline, Leila was naturally strong, she just never put that strength to good use. Seeing Icicle's action, murderous glint flashed past her eyes and she struck out with her paw!
The seemingly harmless pat contained enormous force!
The soil underneath the wolf exploded, splitting apart as it formed a 1m deep hole underneath. The sound of dozens of bones breaking could be heard as the wolf landed. Merely the sight of the wolf who was so mangled his mother wouldn't recognize it made many players gasp in astonishment!
The other squirrels were strong, but this was even more superb! An overwhelming force of Leila made the morale surge!
One after the other, the other squirrels squeaked, fighting with even more savagery and vigor. How could they lose out in front of their adorable princess? She was able to fell the wolf with one hit, could they even call themselves veterans if they were any weaker?!
Icicle followed every movement inside 3m radius, making sure to backup any struggling squirrel or player. Right now, it didn't matter if other players stole some equipment from him. His group already had aplently. What he needed to do was to finish the event and receive the reward!
More and more wolves made it through the defensive line. "Ahhhh!" Enna screamed next to Faura. She was attacked by a [Grey Alpha Wolf]. With her measly defense, HP and movement speed, she would end up dead within a few breaths time.
Icicle broke off his position and hurried to help. As soon as he was in range, he used [Soundless Fear]. Nearby wolves all retreated backwards, leaving some breather for the struggling players. Surrounding players looked at Icicle with confused gazes.
"FieryRed, don't you go engaging on your own, protect your friends goddamnit!" Icicle hollered. This girl was too reckless, charging in like a powerhouse. "Headshot, you too! You're a man aren't you?! How can you hide behind women like that?! Kite those wolves!"
Inferno laughed on the side. He was a Fire Mage yet he dodged the attacks and tried to be as mobile as possible. Meanwhile Headshot just stood like a statue and fired arrows. It truly was somewhat laughable.
Headshot's face immediately became red from embarrassment. He started playing to impress some beauties and get a girlfriend. He didn't expect that he'll be the weakest link. His determination to get laid made his resolve surge. Headshot nocked his bow and started running around the wolves, taking the aggro off the backliners. SilentStep entered stealth with few other Rogues and quickly picked those scattered wolves off.
Icicle quickly shifted through the ranks and helped out those who were struggling. The situation was tough. There were many on the verge of dying, either from wounds or from insufficient mana. Without resources they were a really sorry sight. It was already a miracle they could last that long.
Suddenly, something landed on Icicle's left shoulder. He looked at Leila licking her red fur contentedly. She looked at Icicle and her eyes shined like the myriads of stars.
"You want to go in there?" Icicle pointed at the large wolf pack that was engaged in combat with the rest of the squirrels. The battlefield in front of them compared to what they had here was the difference of heaven and earth. The defense of Leila's position didn't even seem meaningful.
Leila waved her little paws in a patting gesture. Icicle quickly made his mind. It was either him or those wolves, and he definitely didn't want to be caressed by the squirrel princess.
"You just told us to stay back yet you're charging in?!" Faura screamed with disbelief. "That's right, why can you rush in and I can't?!" FieryRed grumbled discontentedly. She wanted to ram through all of those wolves at once. It seems she picked the Paladin class to actually deal damage.
"Take care of those guys quickly. I'll lessen your burden!" Icicle replied as he ran into a horde of wolves.
The bloodshed the main force engaged in was far more bloody. There were no defined lines of offense and defense. Every creature around the area fended for itself. Some brave players approached from time to time to deal the killing blow, but the mortality rate was really high. For most players that survived until now, one more piece of equipment wasn't worth dying for. If they died, their items could drop.
As Icicle approached, he was quickly targeted by 3 of the [Grey Alpha Wolves]. He dodged to the side, allowing Leila to unleash a flurry of blows.
Every time one of her paws landed, the wolf would be sent flying with its bones breaking, howling miserably. Some wolves didn't even dare to approach again. Icicle looked back and realized that defensive line was doing better now that they had no more little princess to worry about, but they were still overwhelmed by sheer numbers. He looked at little Leila and asked "Do you want to have some fun?"
Leila rubbed her little paws in anticipation. No one would dare think this little squirrel holds such a tremendous power. "Good. Tell your friends to help the group behind us. We'll take care of these little dogs." Icicle said confidently.
He looked at Adian's direction and saw he wasn't doing great. This time Adian used all of his skills, but against a high level boss even he had to be overly careful. One misstep could cost him his life.
Icicle had a bad premonition and examined [Red Devil]'s situation. To his surprise the squirrel ancestor was doing rather well, with no sign of serious injuries. But no one knew how the event will unfold. What if the wolves are reinforced yet again? What if the squirrel flanks fall? Then all of the players and remaining defenses will be boxed in, surrounded on all sides. Icicle had to hurry and help [Red Devil] out to assure the rewards!
Less players alive meant less people turning in their furs. How will Icicle explain himself to Adian if he has got nothing to sell?
Icicle focused on the situation nearby. He had to make sure this group is dealt with quickly. He didn't know how the situation was at the flanks. If the worst comes to the worst, this whole event will end up in complete failure.
"Alright Leila, let's go!" Icicle pushed forward with his the sole of his foot, pushing the dirt behind him. He charged into the middle of the wolves and unleashed [Soundless Fear]. The wolves scattered and Leila released a series of squeaks.
Black and reddish streaks of light immediately rushed south to reinforce the other soldiers. Those squirrels were the true elites of the [Red Devil's Tribe]. With their help, even with the additional wolves those reinforcements brought along, the Protectors squad should quickly wipe the floor with the wolf force.
Icicle smiled widely as he placed himself in the middle of at least 200 wolves. Menacing stares came from all over, sending chills down his spine. This madman enjoyed it! "Ahh what a thrill! Let's have our fun now, Leila!"