Chapter 8: Wicked Firestarter
Divus’ small party sprinted through the narrow corridors of the derelict mine, desperate to save their stranded comrades. With his higher agility Trevor was a few meters ahead of the rest as they finally reached the cavern in which the carriage was held. Skidding to a halt he waved the others to the ground and quickly crept forwards.
He’d thought it odd they hadn’t encountered the Goblins lounging in the corridor he’d passed earlier, but the reason was quickly apparent. Surrounding the carriage were easily two dozen goblins of different shapes and sizes. Almost twice the number that had previously gathered were now laughing noisily in a group.
Trevor quickly ducked behind some crates of the goblins’ previous bounty while his comrades followed with notably less stealth. Luckily it didn’t matter, as all their attention was focused on the carriage and its newly discovered occupants.
“What’s going on, why aren’t they trying to pry open the door?” Divus breathlessly asked.
“I don’t know, but they don’t seem to be in a hurry. We need to come up with a plan.”
Divus surveyed the cavern from behind the crates. All around the edges loot from previous fights had been piled up, Binky and the other horse were tied far away from the carriage and the immediate area around the party of goblins was devoid of cover. They couldn’t sneak right up to them or even try to rush them. The numbers were simply too many.
Despite taking challenges far beyond what he’d thought himself capable since arriving in New World Divus realised that this was truly a hopeless situation. There was just no way for 3 people to make up for the sheer difference in numbers.
Yet still he didn’t give up. There had to be a way to at least salvage something! But it did not seem likely they could even escape themselves with their lives intact. Was there a way to distract them, or lead them away? Wait what was that, it looked familiar…
“What’s in these crates?”
Trevor and Athena glanced at him, tearing themselves away from the overwhelming force of enemies. Then they immediately started digging into the box. Woodchips filled the interior to prevent the goods from smashing into each other, but they were easily brushed away. Careful not to make any noise they soon unearthed some unusual merchandise. Lanterns. Dozens of them. On their own they were useless, but through general trivia Divus was well aware of what would have to accompany them.
There was a chance they’d been shipped separately but he needed to check. Nervously glancing up at their enemies he silently slipped his sword under the lid of the next crate, cracking it open with exaggerated care. Bingo. Inside were rows of tiny vials of oil, the highly flammable kind.
However Trevor remained unimpressed. “How are these supposed to help? It’s not like the oil has been conveniently spread around beneath our enemies feet now has it?”
That was indeed the problem. They might have stumbled upon a huge stock of oil, but it was useless to them bottled up inside a crate. But the first inklings of a plan began to form in his Divus’ head. It was risky, no it was more just unlikely to work as he envisioned, but if they succeeded then the goblins would suddenly be plenty distracted. Well, it was better than nothing.
“Athena, pass that large jug over, yeah that one.” While she scampered off Divus turned to explain to his sceptical ally. “OK Trevor, here’s what I need you to do. If everything goes according to plan then all those goblins out there will get a good dousing of oil. Then Athena can pop out and light them all up with flame magic. In the ensuing chaos we’ll escape, so I need you to be ready with the horses. Can you sneak over to them?”
Trevor hesitated for a brief second, then quickly nodded in assent. “It will take me a minute, but they won’t see me. This seems a little crazy, but it’s better than anything I got. Let’s give it a go.”
“OK, then go now. We have no idea how long they’ll remain passive.”
As Trevor crept off, becoming hazy as he activated stealth, Athena padded back with the large jug. “OK, got it boss man sir! Now what?”
“We need to decant as much oil as we can into this. Come on, hurry.”
After his preparations were complete Divus sat back and idly drew his knife as he waited for Trevor to get in position. The stacks of potentially valuable goods taunted him from all sides, but he was all too aware they couldn’t afford to take any with them. Zoning them out, he focused on calming his nerves for the coming fight. Just as he briefly relaxed a roar came from the goblin force just meters away. He snapped back into alertness and peered over the tops of the crates.
They’d finally grown bored of teasing the carriage’s occupants and the larger goblins were converging on the back doors. A few of them grabbed a hold of the handles and tried to push it open, but it seemed tightly reinforced and they quickly gave up. Then the crowd gave way, allowing a massive goblin easily the size of a man to pass. It carried a huge and viciously hooked axe and wielded it with clear intent.
Divus watched transfixed with horror as the goblin brought the weapon high above its head, then savagely hacked down into the door. It wouldn’t last five seconds.
At that realisation he received Trevor’s whisper. It was now or never, they’d only get this one chance to save their trapped friends! With a roar of his own, which sounded more like a mewling infant in comparison to the chorus of monsters he faced, Divus rose and threw the jug nearly directly upwards. Nearby goblins span around in surprise as it steeply arced through the air. In his very next breath he readied the knife in his hand; eyes locked onto the flying jug as it reached its peak and slowly began to spiral down.
Measuring its speed, measuring its distance, measuring its direction Divus threw his knife. The loud, familiar crash of broken crockery rang out clearly above their enemies as black fluid rained upon all of the goblins heads.
“Athena! Now! BURN IT!”
Cackling with insane mirth, the spirited wizard leapt atop the crates and began to summon fireballs from her outstretched palms. “Fear the wrath of the world’s mightiest sorceress!” She cried as fiery doom was rained down gleefully upon her enemies. This was what she’d been waiting for! Crushing wicked monsters in a sea of flame! Well it was mostly thanks to the oil, but that wasn’t the point!!
“Please try not to hit the carriage!” Divus yelled as he drew his sword and leapt forward to shield her from the goblins with enough presence of mind to attack.
The plan seemed to be working, all the enemies had forgotten about the carriage and were either trying to charge down Athena or rolling around on the floor to put the fire out. But Trevor still needed to release the horses and hook them up, while Divus needed to create a path to the carriage.
“Dash, Beauty!? We could use some help out here!”
As he desperately fended off the handful of goblins that had reached him the backdoor burst open and Dash jumped out sword in hand. If he attacked the rear of Divus’ attackers then they might be able to push through. Yet in spite of that Dash fearfully looked around the chaotic scene and began hacking into the goblins writhing on the ground in a panic.
“I’ll keep these ones down, you guys hurry up!” He yelled.
Another foe joined the group Divus desperately defended against, meaning now there were half a dozen clubs, swords and hatchets he needed to parry and avoid. Not only were they swinging in their usual fast and brutal arcs but most of them were also still on fire, making it difficult to get close. After only 3 half dodged glancing hits made it past his guard he saw his health slowly tick down, already at the halfway mark as he frantically moved his body.
As he began to lose hope of ever making it through alive Beauty hopped out of the carriage. She began singing in a stunning melody that truly matched up to her name. Even the goblins turned their heads at the sound. “Bewitching tune!” She yelled at the end of her performance, and instantly half the enemies stood frozen.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, it was a testimony of Beauty dumping almost all her stat boost points into charm ever since she’d gained it. For bard songs, especially those targeting enemies, charm was the main governing stat. And for her level, Beauty’s was through the roof. With barely a second of pause she immediately launched into the next song.
Divus still had another three enemies to contend with however, and was still slowly being pushed back. His back had almost been pushed up against the stack of crates when the sound of hooves echoed towards him.
Trevor was sat riding one horse while leading the other straight towards them, ploughing through the disorientated goblins in the way.
“Get on!” He yelled as he brought Binky forwards, the goblins kept at bay as his own horse reared and kicked out at them.
Divus scrambled onto Binky’s back as Athena leapt down behind him and grabbed onto his waist. They turned towards the carriage and sped past the furious goblins all around. As soon as they’d reached the goal Divus vaulted to the floor and yelled back up at them.
“Get the horses hitched. Then Athena, get us out of here!”
He then faced the goblins once again, who were slowly reorganising and charging towards the carriage. Dash also saw their target and, cursing under his breath, finally went to stand beside him.
His desperate battle of obstructing the goblins while staying alive resumed once more. Divus ducked beneath a massive cleaver while deflecting a hatchet to the side. Jumping back to cushion the blow of a large club he sliced forward catch a goblin across the chest. It staggered back, gaining him precious milliseconds as more attacks rained down upon him.
Dash was fairing worse, relying on his much larger health pool and endurance to tank most blows. But even with his higher level his health was rapidly disappearing.
“WE ARE LEAVING!” Came a roar from the front of the carriage. In that moment Divus felt the familiar rush of his willpower kick-in. With a sudden spurt of speed he managed to push all the goblins back at once. Then, grabbing Dash as he turned, he sprinted back towards the carriage. Half pulling, half carrying his team-mate he launched himself through the back door and screamed “GO” to the duo out front.
The carriage immediately lurched into motion, clattering along through the cavern and up towards freedom. Through the unclosed backdoor they could see a group of angry goblins furiously chasing them, but it was too late. They had escaped. Releasing the pent up air in his lungs Divus exhaustedly lent back against the back bench, finally able to relax.
Only after they’d managed to leave the goblin cave far behind in the distance did conversation spark back up.
“What the hell was all that!?” Dash demanded as the carriage slowed to a gentle trot, “How did you manage to let us get captured!?”
With Trevor and Athena out front there was only Divus left to try and provide answers. “W-well uh, we just w-went out hunting for a bit. Th-then there was a chest, we fell and, and-“
“Chest, what do you mean chest?”
“Dash…” Beauty started. She’d logged in moments before the goblins had started trying to break into the carriage, so if anything was even more disorientated, however she’d managed to jump into the action as soon as the counter-attack began. As far as she could tell the others had saved them.
“Don’t you Dash me, we could have been made mincemeat because of these guys!”
“Calm down Dash,” Trevor said as he clambered into the back, “We fell into a trap and almost got wiped out, but we managed to get out of it in the end.”
Sullenly holding his tongue, Dash turned away from his party and watched the countryside roll by.
“This isn’t like you. It’s only a game in the end. Is something wrong?” Beauty asked, concern etched all over her face.
“No, it’s nothing. Sorry guys, you must have had it hard too. I mean, only the thief, healer and a complete noob stuck in a dungeon.”
Trevor relaxed as he saw his friend calming down. “Haha, don’t worry about that! We were almost done for quite a few times, but thanks to Divus we made it out in one piece! You should have seen him fight, he killed a goblin twice his level single handed!”
“Really?” Beauty asked, failing to notice the return of Dash’s scowl and turning to the comrade in question. “How’d you manage that?”
Divus, who’d previously backed himself into a corner of the carriage, scratched the back of his head and shakily replied. “Um, well th-they were just a lot simpler to what I’ve been u-used to.” Which was true, even the rabbits had been less easy to predict.
Before there was a chance to question him further Dash broke in. “I’m logging out now, see ya tomorrow.”
Without another word his body morphed into stone and the group fell into silence.
“I’m logging out too, I need to check if anything’s wrong.”
“Yeah me too, I might as well get some work done.”
Divus was quickly left alone as the collection of statues in the back of the wagon grew. After the silence settled in for a moment he clutched at his head in despair. But it wasn’t loneliness that assailed him. His thoughts immediately turned to the mountain of loot contained in the goblin cave. Who knows what kind of items he could have found within, he might even have found something he could sell online to start earning the rent.
No, it was too early to give up yet. He called Athena to halt the carriage and clambered out the back.
“What’cha up to Divus?” She asked, jumping from the front seat.
“Hey Athena, I need to a-ask a favour.”
She looked at him with quizzical eyes, “Sure, shoot.”
“Well, c-could you come back with me to the g-goblin cave?”
A thoughtful expression briefly passed through her face, before she excitedly responded. “That’s a great idea!! What are we gunna do? Round 2? This’ll be awesome. Ah!” She briefly paused, turning seriously towards him, “We can’t tell the others!”
No worries about that, Divus thought to himself. They immediately set about investigating their surroundings, making sure there were no monster patrols wondering about who might nick the carriage a second time. When finally satisfied it was safe they hid the carriage best they could and set off with Binky back the way they had come.
It was quite some distance to the old abandoned mine, they’d put a few solid miles between them after their panicked escape. When the entrance was finally back in sight it had been a few hours since the fight. A lone sentry sat outside, but he was fast asleep. It seemed they were still recovering, or perhaps security had always been that lax. Regardless, without Trevor to scout ahead it was a godsend for Divus.
After much insisting he gave in to allow Athena to make the first move, but only after he’d gotten close enough to finish it off. She gleefully started charging her fireball as Divus slowly crept closer. When he was within a few meters of the monster, and too worried to get nearer without a stealth skill, he motioned for Athena to attack and waited. And waited. Aaaaaaand waited.
Just as he was about to turn angrily back to his belated comrade a massive wave of heat swept past. A gargantuan ball of plasma, as large as the target itself, engulfed the unsuspecting goblin, reducing it to ashes before it even had the chance to scream. Divus stared at the immolated corpse in amazement as Athena triumphantly approached.
“Bwahaha! Well? This is the power of the world’s greatest sorceress!!”
He knew she’d been diligently practising, but this was just ridiculous! “How? How’d you manage to do so much damage!?”
Athena smiled proudly and tossed her head back, peering at him down her nose. “Simple! I just put all my mana into it!”
She just put all her mana into it. Just all her mana. All her mana. “Wait wait wait! So you used all your magic power?”
“You’ve got none left?”
“Not a bit!”
“H-how long does it take to recharge?”
“Fully? Hmmmmmm…” She looked back to the ground, crossing her legs thoughtfully. “Back to full, about 20-30 minutes?”
Divus stood in silence, unsure of where to start. Athena took this for awe, and struck an even more ostentatious pose.
“Athena, what would you have done if there were two of them?”
“Um, lined them up?”
Well reasoning with her would probably prove fruitless. Heaving a great sigh he led the way into the cave’s entrance. After a few seconds his companion realised he’d left and quickly chased after. They moved in silence for a while, Divus wary of further guards while Athena sulking at the lack of praise for almighty magic.
It wasn’t long before they managed to get back to the massive cavern filled with loot and, last time they saw it, goblins. However as they cautiously approached, backs pressed to the walls, it became apparent that most the monsters had left. When Divus glanced through the opening he could only see a half dozen of them sat around their fire. That said, 6 goblins were more than enough at his current level. He’d gained some experience from the earlier fights, but they were still close to twice his level. He wouldn’t survive against all of them, not with blows raining from all sides. No wait…
The memories of his training under Peter slowly resurfaced, continuously battling the hellish hound over the course of hours, he’d not only gotten several level raises but also permanent stat boosts. Well even so, he wasn’t keen on repeating that. Constantly being clawed and bitten hadn’t been the most pleasant experience… No, his resolution amounted to more than that.
“Hey Divus, there’s quite a few. What do we do?”
He turned to face his companion, knowing that her cooperation was essential. “Listen, I’m going to charge them and try and take them out, I need you to stay near the exit and focus on healing me. If I die, run away. I’ll just respawn at the carriage, no big deal.”
Athena did not look convinced. “There’s no way you’ll beat them! You lose a level every time you die right? And more? It doesn’t seem worth it…”
“No, it’ll be worth it. But you have to focus on healing me, ok? No fireworks.”
He half expected her to pout and complain, but to Divus’ surprise it seemed his seriousness was infectious. With a stern expression he’d never seen on her before Athena nodded, “You can count on me.”
“Alright, we’ll wait a bit for your mana to recharge.”
Thanks to the couple of goblins Dash had finished off in the previous battle Divus had finally reached level 11, so he decided to allocate his points. Although strength, endurance and vitality were a warrior’s usual mainstays for this particular fight he needed all the agility he could get. It was only a couple of minutes until Athena gave the ready signal, and then he started to move forwards.
Breaking into a sprint Divus quickly covered the caverns floor, launching himself at the unsuspecting group of monsters before they really grasped a hold of what was happening. His sword bit into the nearest’s neck as it tried to rise, instantly shaving off almost half its life. He quickly began slashing at it as the goblin tried to pull itself unsteadily to its feet. Dodging the desperate retaliatory swing Divus finished it off with a quick stab through the chest, yanking his sword free and leaping backwards as the rest finally joined the fray.
Two clubs and a large cleaver simultaneously swung towards him. A dextrous flick parried the blade while he twisted out of the way of the clubs, one barely grazing his ribs.
Goblin has dealt 146 damage
Almost a quarter of his entire life with just a glancing hit?! The level difference was still just as deadly as it had been before… However this time it was different. How many times had these goblins swiped wildly at him? How many times had he managed to frantically avoid them until now? He had grown so used to their predictable, over-reaching attacks that, one-on-one, he could avoid them with his eyes closed.
The only problem was there were more the double the number he’d managed to defeat before. If they surrounded him and coordinated there attacks then he wouldn’t last seconds… But goblins, while they enjoyed grouping together, possessed too low of a collective intelligence to form anything even slightly reminiscent of team-work and as long as he kept his eye out they didn’t even try to surround him.
Yet even if he had grown accustomed to their movements, taking on 5 at once while avoiding damage was impossible, especially as he needed to counter with his own attacks to have any hope of winning, although he could only get weak pot shots in. He’d barely dealt five hits when his life dropped below halfway. Though just as it fell beneath that threshold a missile of healing energy collided with his back, restoring him to almost full. He distantly remembered that Athena was a much higher level, so keeping his health should be easy.
Bolstered by the reassurance that his companion had his back Divus threw himself back into the fight. From an objective standpoint this battle had become a lot more like a traditional MMO encounter. He was hacking at the monsters while they were hacking at him; the first one whose life bar finally dropped to zero was the loser. With his White mage in support he just had to avoid dying in-between healing and he’d win!
Of course that was a rather over-simplistic way of looking at it. A single solid hit and Divus would immediately be in a critical condition. Even if he was constantly restoring his physical strength, the toll taken on his psyche was definitely no joke. After only 5 minutes into the fight the goblins were only marginally worn down and the mental fatigue was really building up.
There were three normal goblins and two scouts. Avoiding the clumsy assault of the clubs was simple, but the slicing cleavers of the scouts were a lot more dangerous so Divus prioritised taking them out. At long last one fell into a critical state and the opportunity came to finish it off! He immediately stepped forward with a savage lunge, eager to finally reduce the numbers. It was a mistake.
The scout nosily perished as Divus hastily tried to extract his blade, but he’d well over-extended himself. As he successfully pulled it free a club collided heavily with his left arm. SNAP. The unexpected sound quickly drew his attention. He stared at the bizarrely positioned hanging limb in shock for a full second before the pain hit him.
It took all the self-control he could muster to avoid dropping his weapon as he screamed at the sudden agony. Even with the massive reduction of pain compared to real life it hurt like nothing he’d felt before. Not even the clawing of the hellhound justly compared. It hurts it HURTS, was there really a need for this game to include pain?!
Players Left Arm has been broken.
Health has been capped at 450 until an additional 750 health has been recovered.
The unexpected message snapped his attention back to the battle and he rolled backwards, out of the way of a fresh barrage of goblin attacks. Jarring his arm as he rose to his feet sent another spasm of pain through his body.
“Athena!” He half screamed, immediately feeling another wave of healing hit his body. But the health bar did not rise past 500 and his arm remained broken and useless.
Seemingly sensing his weakness the goblins charged in once more and he continued his desperate dance of avoidance. With only a single hand he could use parrying became almost useless so he focused on avoiding them, ducking under blades and jumping away from clubs while he waited for Athena to charge up her next magic wave. It would be done almost instantly if he could get close enough for her to use healing hands but doing so would just end up getting them both killed.
As he side stepped another murderous swing the second healing bullet struck him and his arm mended in spectacular speed. Barely having time to flex his appendage the four goblins pushed him into the offense once more. However this time Divus was quite content to take his time, not in any rush to repeat his mistake.
After another minute the last scout fell back, almost dead. Instead of rushing in recklessly like his previous time he continued his battle with the others without a second glance. To his surprise the scout eventually got back up, having regained a little health. It seemed that if you left wounded enemies alone they’d eventually recover a bit, but not past 10% of their initial health.
Tucking that piece of handy information away into the back of his head Divus continued to wear his enemies down. It took him quite a while, but eventually they were all on their last legs. To be safe he needed to finish it in one sweep.
“Athena! Can you stop healing me?” He shouted over his shoulder.
“Don’t worry, just do it! You can start throwing fireballs!”
A quick glance revealed his small companions face torn in indecision. She was worried about Divus’ reckless fight, yet the idea of letting lose an inferno, as miniscule as it would be, never ceased to appeal to her.
“I’ll be fine!”
At the further prompting she made her decision. “Fireball!!” She cried, gleefully releasing fist sized bolts of flame at the goblins.
Divus started taking a few glancing hits on purpose. In actuality his plan was no less dangerous than how he’d taken them out earlier, but he’d unconsciously decided this was more exciting. Not that he’d ever consciously admit it.
Goblin has dealt 130 damage
Just one more.
Goblin has dealt 134 damage
With that message his health fell slightly below 10%. Just one more hit would of finished him off, but the ecstatic goblins hit nothing but air. Fuelled by the rush of willpower Divus easily avoided all four of their weapons and struck with boosted strength. With just one hit each the goblins were instantaneously wiped out by his lightning assault.
3, 2, 1 and 0!
3, 2, 1 and 0!
Despite being outnumbered and even suffering a broken arm, you have successfully defeated several enemies much stronger than yourself!
Endurance has increased by 4
Vitality has increased by 3
Strength has increased by 2
Willpower has increased by 1
Hah, this was exactly what he’d been aiming for! While the boost wasn’t too massive, permanent stat increases would still be a huge advantage in the long run.
“Bwahaha! Take that goblin scum! No one messes with this mighty sorceress and gets away!”
Unable to muster a response Divus collapsed where he was, laughing aloud. Whether from Athena’s haughty proclamation or just sheer exhaustion he did not know.
He turned at the tapping of his companion running towards him and gave a weary smile.
“That was awesome Divus! We sure showed them! What did you do at the end though? You were all like whoosh. Well, it was mainly thanks to me!”
“Yes, it was very nicely done. Thanks.” He managed when he found a lull in the torrent.
Athena looked at him, her excitement washing away as she plopped to the ground before him. “Hey Divus?”
“Why did you do that?”
He’d already been caught off guard by her change in atmosphere but he could do nothing but stare at the sudden question. “What do you mean?” He eventually managed.
“Why did you come back here? Why did you take on all those goblins? And why, after having your arm broken and screaming in pain, did you not give in?”
When Athena had readily agreed to accompany him Divus had not thought she’d been interested in what he was doing, just in the adventure she could have. Certainly his actions were a bit unreasonable, but he never thought she of all people would point them out.
“Haha, what do you mean? It was just an adventure right? We were only out for some fun!”
With a loud sigh Athena crossed her arms. “No one in their right mind would subject themselves to… that… just for fun.”
Whoa whoa, this was still the same girl that jumped around exuberantly when they’d spotted a moose right? It did not seem like she was going to let this go. With a sigh of his own, Divus spilled the beans. He hesitated for a second to collect his thoughts, then began
“Well I’ve got a sister, about the same age as you, and we’re pretty much all alone. I’ve got to provide a living for us, bring in the dough as it were. But I can’t get a job anywhere else; I have no qualifications and have barely left the flat for the past few years. This is pretty much the only place I can earn enough to keep us afloat.” He was silent for a moment, and then suddenly remembered who he was talking to. “Ah yeah, you can earn money by selling items in MMOs.”
Athena was still unconvinced. “Even so, why do you try so hard?”
“It’s because-“ It’s my fault. No, he couldn’t just say that. What was he even doing, telling her all that? “I’m the older brother, and this is the only way I can look out for her.”
They sat facing each other in silence for a moment longer, and then Athena abruptly jumped to her feet.
“Well let’s go check out the loot!” She decided, scampering off to the piles of chests. She stopped briefly, turning back to him. “You know, you’re a lot cooler when you don’t stutter.”
He watched her dash off again, at last completely lost for all words. Despite having sat down for a while now, he felt no better rested after that conversation. Divus chuckled to himself as he stood, there was just no use trying to match her pace.
Clair collapsed on her bed, thoroughly exhausted. After she’d returned home her brother had quickly rushed up to her trying to make up excuses. If she wasn’t so furious she probably would have laughed when it turned out he thought she assumed he was watching porn. He had assured her he was on a game website and was a bit embarrassed about what she’d thought of it.
But Clair knew the truth. Even if the clumsily hidden headgear was only a suspiciously shaped lump under Nevil’s covers the open box which she knew he stored it in had been lying on the floor in plain view. It would have been hard to make it less obvious what he’d been up to.
Although the doctors, and her brother himself, had assured her that the game had nothing to do with the brief coma, Clair was quite convinced over wise. Sure Nevil was rather unhealthy and didn’t go out much and didn’t eat properly and- no that wasn’t the point. The point was that had never happened before, no matter how many days he shut himself up playing computer games. There was no way it was unrelated.
But it wasn’t just him she was angry at. She thought back to the hospital. Clair knew why her brother would push his unhealthy body to extremes to make money online. She knew why he’d gotten into that state in the first place. Why couldn’t she say it? Just 4 simple words. Why couldn’t she tell him, it’s not his fault?