The Warrior, Megryd, gazed down at the catacomb entrance, his brow furrowed and his muscles taut. His gleaming mail armor glinted in the noonday sun, the product of countless adventures and quests bestowed upon him by king and peasant alike. His sword, forged from the very fires of Mount Biozard and wrested from the hands of the Sorcerer King himself, rested in its jewelled scabbard for the time being, but Megryd's flexing hand sat near the pommel, ready to draw it at a moment's notice.
The catacomb entrance beckoned darkly to the warrior. His nerves were steeled and his body ready - he had prepared for this moment.
"LFG," he spoke, his deep, resonant voice carrying across the world, from the Plains of Fire to the Depths of the Misbegotten, impelled by the powerful magic wielded by every itinerant adventurer. "1/5 for <Catacombs of Helldamont> need heals, tank, cc."
He knew he would find other brave souls willing to take on this dark challenge. Every person for miles around knew that the Catacombs of Helldamont were home to the Demi-Lich, whose evil had corrupted the surrounding valleys and hillsides with necromantic ruin. It would be a noble goal to rid the Demi-Lich's evil from the land, but the warrior wasn't here on a mission of altruism. He wanted the Jewelled Belt, a mighty artifact from a bygone age, and it was rumored that the Demi-Lich possessed it. Other great treasures could be found in the Demi-Lich's hoard, but it was the belt that the warrior coveted.
A disembodied voice whispered in his ear: "I'll join, 54 Shield-knight." The warrior knew instantly that the whisperer's name was "Bignugly."
"K, sec," the warrior whispered back, his words floating through the ether, to be heard only by this new ally. He stood stock-still a moment, mentally sorting through a veritable menu of options for how he would interact with this whisperer, and after a second or so, created a deep but temporary psychic bond with him. He could bond with three more souls for this adventure, and he meant to do just that. He was not always limited to this number, but there was really no room in the catacombs for a full raiding party.
Once the bond had been established, the Shield-knight instantly knew where he needed to go. He was quite some distance away, but could reach the location via the use of magical transportation devices, enchanted maps and his trusty steed.
"Omw," he said, his voice now traveling along the invisible connection of the psychic bond, but inaudible to anyone standing next to him. It was similar magic to that which powered the adventurers' whispers, but it would be heard by anyone sharing the intricate psychic bond they now shared.
"I can go," a voice rang out from somewhere across the hills. The warrior knew that the speaker was somewhere within the same region as he, in the surrounding hills and valleys, and that his name was TreeHugz. But he needed more information.
"Class and level?" he whispered, the soft hiss flowing across the hills for miles to find its intended target.
"60 Druid," came the response after a lengthy, uncomfortable pause. "Sry, was fighting bears, lol." There was a distinct note of mirth in his apology.
After a moment's consideration, the warrior added the Druid to the psychic bond as well.
"Hey guys," he greeted the others via the psychic conduit. "Be right there, gonna hit a vendor in town first."
"Heya Hugz," offered Bignugly, also through the psychic conduit.
"Oh hey Bign, lol," the druid laughed. "Sweet."
This boded well to the warrior - clearly, these two had adventured together before and had some kind of rapport. Communication was the key to any good adventuring group.
Now that he had filled two crucial roles, it would be easier to fill the remaining spots. He ran a hand over his green mohawk, smoothing it down against his pale white scalp and letting it spring back tall, like a rooster's comb. Megryd sounded the call again, but this time his call came tinged with optimism and promise.
"3/5 for <Catacombs of Helldamont>," he uttered, his deep, resonant voice carrying to all ears far and wide. "Need cc and one more."
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Several voices whispered into his ears at once, the speakers all remote but eager to join him in his righteous quest. One speaker was named Dinglenuuttz, another named Charfonn, and yet another named MiNtYzGuRl. He could only respond to one at a time, so he spoke to Charfonn first - Charfonn had indicated that he was a Shadowdagger of appropriate experience, and his skills would be invaluable.
"Sending invite," the warrior whispered simply. He extended the psychic conduit to Charfonn, and felt a faint "click," like a lock tumbler sliding into place when the key is inserted, as the Shadowdagger joined the meeting of the minds.
Bignugly had arrived at the hilltop by then - a stout orc with dark, spike-covered armor. He was very large, a full head taller than a human and nearly twice as broad, and had a face as humorless and grim as stone. The warrior noted that Bignugly was wearing the very same boots as he - clearly, he had been to Borrok Canyon and had bested Lord Enzafar. He waved to the orc, and the orc, strangely, began dancing in an exuberant, energetic fashion.
It seemed best to ignore this, so the warrior turned his attention to filling the last spot. He whispered to Dinglenuuttz first.
"Class/level?" he asked earnestly. The whispered response was slow in coming.
"48 SPEARMAN," came the response - a shockingly-loud sound that only the warrior could hear. He winced at the volume. "IVE DONE IT LIKE 50 TIMES LOL."
Like all adventurers, the warrior was gifted with highly-accurate clairvoyance. Focusing his thoughts, he extended his perception through the ether and examined the Spearman. He was wearing ratty, mismatched armor and carrying coarse weapons clearly looted from the corpses of very weak enemies, most likely from the Barren Hills region where all mid-range adventurers trained for greater things. His equipment gave lie to his statement that he had entered the Catacombs of Helldamont several times. The warrior instead turned his attention to MiNtYzGuRl, asking him the same question in a remote whisper.
"56 Warrior," came the whispered reply almost instantly. The androgynous voice carried a measure of good humor - a note of laughter coloring every syllable. "And I already have the belt, LOL. Just need to finish an Accomplishment for skeletons."
Along with the whisper came a clear mental vision of a cheerful face, turned on its side, winking slyly. They were now co-conspirators, working together to accomplish mutually-beneficial goals and sharing confidential information.
"K, cool," the warrior replied, relieved, and likewise moved to high spirits. He sent a mental image of his own face, turned sideways, smiling gratefully. "Yeah I need the belt haha." He extended the invitation, and MiNtYzGuRl accepted, closing the loop in the psychic conduit and completing the group. The warrior felt a satisfying glow, a sense of completeness and wholeness.
"Hey guys," said MiNtYzGuRl through the psychic link. "Brt."
"Hey Minty," said Bignugly, still dancing energetically.
"Welcome," said Charfonn.
"We're waiting at the entrance," the warrior said. "Meet up here."
"Hey, u still need for Helldamont?" a voice cried out of the distant wilderness, from some remote region in a far-away land. "57 Warlock g2g!"
"Filled, sorry," Megryd called out. He was grateful for the swift response of his peers, for their willingness to risk life and limb for the sake of justice or for the love of ancient treasures. Such brave, willing souls should be shown gratitude.
"Thx all," he said, his heart swelling with pride for the spirit of generosity in his fellow man.
"WAT ABOUT ME?????" a familiar voice screeched in Megryd's ear. He instantly recognized the voice as that of Dinglenuuttz the Spearman. The warrior hung his head - he had hoped that his silence would have been answer enough, but apparently it was not so.
The warrior did not wish to be cruel or hurtful. This Dinglenuuttz person had never wronged him; he had simply not been an ideal partner for this mission, and had clearly been dishonest about having been inside the catacombs before. The warrior felt that a little white lie - not even a lie, really, but a half-truth - would smooth things over without any undue dramatics.
"Sorry, we filled up rly fast," he apologized gently via magical whisper.
"YEAH W/E," came the angry, petulant response. And a brief moment later, "DICK."
Clearly, Dinglenuttz was hurt by his exclusion. The warrior's attempt at a diplomatic resolution had failed. But he couldn't take it personally, and he had more important things to worry about.
One by one, the party assembled. Bignugly kept on dancing as the other three members arrived. The Druid showed up first, cresting a hill and waving to the Warrior and the Shield-knight. As soon as he arrived, Megryd could see that TreeHugz and Bignugly belonged to the same adventuring guild. They wore identical crests with the name "Legend's of Everdawn" in bold blue letters. TreeHugz, however, needed to take a moment to prepare for the challenges ahead - a moment of meditation to clear his thoughts and bolster his resources.
"AFK a sec," he said, going stock still and standing a short distance away, staring blankly down at the catacombs. So deep was his meditation that another man could dash up and slap him across the face, screaming directly into his ears, even stab him to death with a dagger, and the meditation would not be broken. Megryd had seen it before - adventurers picking the exact wrong spot to meditate, standing motionless and oblivious to their own peril while being slain by wandering beasts.
The other Warrior, MiNtYzGuRl, was the next to arrive, and, after a moment's observation, she joined Bignugly in energetic dance. The performance was a clear indicator of Bignugly's incredible endurance - it was a lively, full-body dance, a feat of athleticism that would have exhaused most men within a very few minutes, but he had been shuffling and dancing steadily for a long time now, without so much as breaking a sweat.
As crude and unlovely as Bignugly was, MiNtYzGuRl was his exact opposite. Where the Shield-knights armor was heavy, spiky and dark, hers was scant, sleek and sheer, showing every delicious curve of her body. Where Bignugly was thick and coarse and brutal, she was voluptuous, athletic and curvy. The Warrior was not sure how much protection MiNtYzGuRl's night-dress would offer in a heated battle, but he assumed that it was simply a magical glamour masking heavier, bulkier armor beneath a cosmetic illusionary garment. All the female adventurers did it these days - once they got past their training in the Barren Hills, that is.
The Shadowdagger was the last to arrive. So stealthy was Charfonn that nobody even saw him until he leapt out of a heretofore-unnoticed shadow right in the middle of the group.
"We rdy?" Charfonn asked expectantly.
"Hugz is still afk," Bignugly said, finally stopping his frantic dancing. Indeed, TreeHugz the druid was still standing a short distance away, facing slightly away from the group and staring blankly off into the distance.
They were mildly surprised when he blinked his eyes half a moment later, turned to them and merrily said, "Back lol."
"K, we rdy?" Charfonn repeated. The party rallied itself, checked their straps and buckles and weapons and confirmed, one by one, that they were ready to enter the catacombs. All but TreeHugz.
"Oh shit, I need a gear swap, lol" he laughed absentmindedly. "Sec."
Though his packs were small enough to be concealed beneath his forest-green leather armor, TreeHugz had packed several complete kits of armor: studded, boiled and banded leather cuirasses, gauntlets, pauldrons, vambraces, leggings, boots, helmets, and even accessories like belts, amulets and rings. Each set looked different from the others, and each had its own unique fit and balance which accentuated different aspects of his ability to manipulate the forces of nature. One might think that hauling around three full armor kits would require a small team of ponies, but TreeHugz - and, indeed, most adventurers - managed to carry similar quantities of gear and equipment with them at all times, in non-magical carrying bags no larger than a belt pouch or a trouser pocket.
TreeHugz changed his armor in front of everyone, piece by piece, unembarrassed by his own nudity. When he was satisfied that he had the correct outfit on, and all his other armor pieces were stashed back in his oddly-voluminous pockets, he indicated that he was ready to go.
"Let's rock this shit," said Bignugly, a terrifying grin spreading across his brutal face.
"Lol," agreed Charfonn jovially.
Megryd, the undisputed leader of the group, merely nodded and headed down to the catacomb entrance.
And as he approached the door, he heard yet another whisper - the rushed,
desperate, criminal voice of a speaker named Dsdaqwdas:
"Hi friend w w w.WOWGOLDS-BEST-OK dot C O M, cheapest gold 1m = $6 US lvl 80 powerlevel = $19.99 fast friendly, bestdeal!"
Megryd gritted his teeth in annoyance, and added Dsdaqwdas to the Black List - a mental collection of names of the people he chose to ignore entirely, as though they didn't even exist. He even sent a prayer to the gods themselves, calling for Dsdaqwdas's banishment, but he had a feeling they already knew about him.
Shoulders squared, weapons drawn and spirits high, Megryd and his party prepared to enter the catacombs.
To Be Continued....