|Mar. 16th, 2004 11:00 am Manuscript - "The Crew"|
Chapter 1 – "Bursting Passed Over Aqua Field, Level 1"
"Wait! You can't go in there! That portal is cursed."
"Cursed? ... No matter, though. Come on, let's go." I take a few steps forward and my party fans out defensively. Our band of misfits has almost a humorous appearance to it, but with our strength, others have learned to be cautious. "We have some business to deal with in there."
"No." The Heavy Axeman steps across our path, blocking the way. "I will not let you put anyone into danger."
"Whether you will 'let' us or not is your own choice; but there is little you can do to stop us." I take another step.
"Wait." Surprised, I look back to the most loyal of my party.
"What is it Feoman?"
Slightly unsure of himself, the Blademaster continues. "Wait. Maybe we should heed Mr. ... uh... "
"Filmlust, call me Filmlust."
"Filmlust then. Maybe we should heed his warning. How about we try a lower level first, one that we our certain that we can handle.
"I still am opposed to this, Feoman." Filmlust turns back to me. "I dislike your decision, if this be it."
"Then you may wish that I join you. My services may be of use to you."
"A guide, of sorts. I have ventured out carefully myself, and know full well what to expect."
"I doubt that I will be surprised. My crew has seen much, well experienced are we."
"Still, I should like to join you; though, party seems full."
"Not quite. Feoman?"
"Yes?" He turns to me, awaiting a decision.
"How has Fellemp been getting along?" The young, ambitious Wavemaster had been rescued from a troublesome world of which we had taken to policing; since then, his loyalty had grown and ambition had faded, to be replaced by a kind but decisive heart. Given opportunity, he would grow quickly while traveling alone.
"The young lad is ready to train at the next level."
"Good. Let us see how he does under the command of another. Remove him from your party and let this kind man have a hand at training him." I call Fellemp forward. "Do you have your earpiece?"
"I do." He raises his finger to his ear in a strict salute.
"Good. For the next world, you will travel with Filmlust. Follow his orders but keep in touch; Feoman is still your commanding officer."
The exchange complete, I turn to the remainder of my crew. In silent salute, they duplicate Fellemp's gesture. "Who is with whom?"
My second in power, Porous, a Heavy Blade, steps forward and lowers his salute. "You, Biv, have Phinickey and Immaterial."
"Both Twin Blades; good. Go on."
"I have only Phurn. Victir and Trappen are together."
"Is that it?"
"Nobody else is logged in."
"Fine. Victir? Trappen?"
"Yes sir?" Simultaneously, they steps forward,
"Which of you is senior?"
Victir volunteers himself. "I am sir."
"By how much?"
"A few experience points."
"Fine. I want you to take care of Trappen and Phurn. The three of you will act as scouts; Phurn goes ahead, Trappen and Victir take the sides."
"Phurn, I will travel with you."
"The rest of you stay together in tight formation."
Filmlust speaks up. "What about me?"
"I want you to stay between the main group, but behind the frontal guard. If you have anything to share, relay all messages through Fellemp. Does everybody understand?"
The crew erupts in a simultaneous "yes sir," and they all salute, startling Filmlust (who is not familiar with the crew's practices).
"Good. Filmlust, you choose the 'easy' field. As soon as we are all in, get in formation."
Suddenly, a figure appears at the portal. "Mind if I join in?"
"Glad you could make it, Balmorung. How was your vacation?"
"Quite boring. There was no internet, so I am a bit out of practice."
"That's fine. Pair up with Feoman, but travel alone. You're the rear guard."
"Excellent. My favorite spot."
"Okay Filmlust, let's go!"
"Level one? You've got to be kidding me. Biv, I think this is a waste of our time. The lowest of us is Fellemp, and he is level nineteen!"
"Quiet Phinickey. It's not your place to argue with our guide."
Turning away from him, I watch as the others appear. "Is everybody here? Good. Formation!"
Quickly, they arrange themselves, Phurn ahead, Victir to the left, Trappen to the right, Balmorung behind, and all else in between. I walked to the front, used a fairy's orb, and off we went.
The grassland field was rather unpopulated with magic portals, although we encountered many 'loose' monsters, most were magical goblins. After not very long, the field was clear, all the grunty food had been picked, and everyone's discipline relaxed. Finally, we reached the dungeon and strode inside.
Before walking through any more doorways, I pulled out another orb to see what this dungeon's first floor had in store for us; however, the layout that appeared was further from anything we had ever expected. It consisted of a mere two rooms: the stairway leading out onto the field, and the other held the straight leading down to the next floor.
"Victir and Trappen, I want you to move to the front, but stay on your sides. Balmorung, travel with Filmlust and Fellemp. Everyone else, keep awake and aware; keep your guard up.!"
Chapter 2 – "Bursting Passed Over Aqua Field – The Plan"
Finally, the six of us reach the lowest level of the dungeon, six floors below the strangest of them all. Beyond the first floor, the other floors had all felt quite normal, with moderately placed portals and eggs. Nobody had yet the misfortune to be seriously injured; nor the luck to gain any level, though with our height in experience, no one was at all surprised.
Using an orb, I discover we do not have much farther to go, merely an empty Y-shaped room with one branch leading toward the Gott Statue, and the other toward the boss. Our company took our time walking up the base of the Y, but at the intersection of paths, they stopped so my party might visit the statue alone and discuss plans on what was the plan for the boss's room. Filmlust made a move to come with us, but the others stayed him. Nobody said a word.
Phinickey and Immaterial followed me quietly, solemn but privileged to be my counsel; we had done this many times and they knew what would come next, along with the rest of the crew. Always before facing an unknown force, I would take a few of the others aside and plan out options.
We reached the doorway, but before entering, I faced them and saluted, signaling to maintain radio silence. They responded with the same salute of silence and we entered the room.
The statue hung majestically behind the treasure chest, which could contain just about anything.
"Be ready for anything; don't let yourselves get surprised. You two are to expect the worst until we find out the details of this boss: even if you are surprised, then don't show it. Understand?"
I turn to Phinickey. ":As soon as we leave this room, I want you to rely this message to Feoman: Everybody is to power up their stats with everything they have, top off your health and magic, and equip their strongest and most useful weapons."
"Immaterial, tell this to Porous: I want three players with the fewest skills to take everyone else's Mage Souls and hang back, keeping their magic up.
"Find the highest level that has at least La Repth, if not Ola Repth, who is responsible for keeping health up. Those users who have magical attack skills that are either Elements or very powerful are to use those.
"The three of us along with anyone who is left are to arrange ourselves around the monster and use physical attack skills. Try not to group together to avoid all getting hit at once."
"And one more thing: if everybody starts dying out quickly, the first priority is to keep at least one person from each party alive, no matter the cost."
"Oh, and one more thing. As soon as we walk in, everybody is to spread themselves out. Don't carry out any of these instructions until my signal. If I have to, I need to be able to reassign instructions. That is all."
We salute, and I turn to the statue and open the chest. Within are three Dante's Blades. I distribute them and double-check that they are equipped, and we leave the room.
As we approach the doorway, the purple flame that usually signifies a virus infused monster spreads across it. Without hesitation, we step through.
On the other side, the room is larger than it had appeared on the map. Within are two magic portals. I gesture to spread out along the wall to avoid activating either of them.
"We're in big trouble," I mutter, then notice a system administrator striding through the door on the other side, a door which the map claims opens into nothingness. It locks behind him, along with the door we entered through, echoing in our stunned silence. Only Filmlust seems largely shaken up, startling us all.
"I don't know what happened to this place," he began, "Last time I was here, there was only one portal and no door on the other side; the monster was nearly impossible. Two of my friends sacrificed their characters and accounts to get me out of there..." He fades off into mumbling and turns away, apparently distraught.
"What happened?" My voice sounds thin to me, yet still startles him, and he turns to face me.
"They were thrill seekers, both of them," Filmlust whispers. Then he continues more strongly: "I was always the logical one, the cautious one. Two of us, myself and another, spent all of our items and scrolls furiously attacking it while the other worked up a hack job. Then, I backed away to attack it with scrolls and allow the two of them to work more closely with the monster; I kept it occupied while they corrupted the virus. ... It destroyed—inhabited the virus within their characters and reduced the monster to normal strength."
Filmlust paused, dealing with the loss of his friends. "You should have been told this before I let you come in here. This is why I have taken to policing the portal: to protect others from the same fate. ...
"I defeated the monster and warped out; and I haven't re-entered the portal since, except to visit other servers."
"So the other servers that are accessible through this portal are uncorrupted?"
"As far as we know."
"Yes, we should have been told this sooner. This is very much unexpected." I turn my attention to my crew. "Would anyone here be willing to sacrifice themselves?"
Immaterial volunteers himself almost immediately. "I'll do it."
"No Immaterial. I need someone else: you are the only one other than myself who understands the full reason why we are here, and I'm the one who is going to hack these monsters."
"No!" All of the crew members raise objections. Filmlust does not.
"Silence!" Startled, they quickly quiet. "It's my fault that we got into this mess, so it's my job to get us out. I am not going to ask anyone to sacrifice themselves for me, so I need one to go with me.
"Immaterial, you are not going to do it. The task needs to be completed, and from the sight of that sys admin, I can tell that this is the right place.
"Victir and Trappen, you are not going to do it because I need you to protect and escort the others out."
Silence drifts over them, realizing the implications of my refusal.
"Then I will do it." "No, I will." Balmorung and Phurn step forward together, each insisting they should do it. An argument is on the verge of starting.
"Quiet both of you. Balmorung: I need you to hold this crew together; if I get deleted, then this crew must not fall back into the band of misfits that we once were. Balmorung, I need you to hold them together for me." He steps back against the wall, sagging with relief and disappointment. I turn to Phurn. "However, Phurn, I wish I could turn you down, though you were the one I was hoping for. You are also the most qualified for this sort of stunt. I therefore accept your offer."
"Thanks, Biv, I won't let you down."
To everyone else, I alter the plan slightly. "Same plan, but I need you to split into two groups. If they come out uneven, give the greater force to Phurn's monster."
"But—" She interjects with a snort of protest.
"Leave it. As the higher rank and the higher level, I must accept responsibility for everyone here. That includes you," I reply, poking a finger in her direction. "What I say goes, unless you plan to mutiny, got it?"
"Yes sir." Her voice holds some disappointment, though it is grateful for the extra protection.
"Good. Split yourselves up before we open the portals. Have at it." While they sort themselves out, I call Phurn to my side. "What do you suggest we do?"
"Why are you asking me? This is your stunt."
"You are the better hacker. Is that not reason enough?"
She replies with a snort of "no."
"Well I have no plan, only a prickling of an idea."
"What is that?" It seems as if Phurn is surprised that, for once, I don't have a plan.
"Just pull off every stunt you know. If you need to communicate with me, use the earpiece, and I'll do the same."
"I'll turn off the headset phones as soon as I give the order to open the magic portals. I want you to do the same. Enough pressure is on our shoulders already, Balmorung and Immaterial can handle the rest." Noticing that everybody is watching us, I turn my attention to them once again. "Did everybody hear that last past? If you have any questions after I give the order to approach and open the portals, ask Balmorung or Immaterial. Are there any questions before I give the order?"
"No sir!" Their enthusiasm echoes around the room.
"Then let's do this!" I am so hyped right now, if I had a stallion and a bayonet, I would climb up and wave it around. "Phurn and I will approach the portal. As they open, evaluate the monsters and send the physical attack team forward. Begin all assault immediately!"
I take Phurn's arm and we walk between the portal, barely containing the adrenaline bubbling up inside of me. As we reach the center of the room, they expand and open. Out crawl two Hell Boxes.
Chapter 3 – Bursting Passed Over Aqua Field – Surprise and Horror
I felt Phurn stiffen and hesitate. Nobody moved except the two monsters, approaching us on both sides. Glancing at the others, I see only Filmlust moving, clawing at the closed doorway; then he stopped, paralyzed like the rest.
They got closer, and I heard Phurn scream, but it cut off like the movement of everybody else. With my heart pounding, I did what I knew had to be done, but I had always feared to do.
I began to type, slow and precise, the one hack job that could save us. If I made one mistake, it would be over; there would be no chance to start again. I poured all my experience into it, literally, as I knew would be necessary. Soon, though my status would say otherwise, my true strength would be that of a lowly level one.
As my experience quickly ran low, the Hell Boxes quickly approached, and soon I found myself typing for my life. Closing my eyes to the game, I focused all my attention to the hack job. Hyperventilating, I black out.
"Biv! Get up!" Opening my eyes, I see Phurn standing next to my avatar, trying to get my attention. Her voice is reaching me through the earpiece, and I fumble with the headset's earphones. Finally, I get them turned back on.
"The Hell Boxes paralyzed us all, though I have no idea why not you..." She drifts off, then comes back with strength. "Why did it not affect you?"
I grinned. "I have, in the past, taken many precautions against that sort of thing. Let's just say I have a few tricks up my sleeve. However, there are ways you can do the same, by carefully choosing your weapons and armor. It's very useful in difficult situations, along with guarding against sleep, poison and confusion. So tell me what happened."
"I was paralyzed and saw that thing coming at me, getting closer and closer for every moment; meanwhile, I could hear your heavy, strained breathing through the earpiece. Suddenly, the Hell Box stopped and the virus's green aura disappeared. I felt you collapse." She paused. "What did you do?"
"I'm not totally sure, though I do know one thing."
"And that is?"
"That though my status claims otherwise, I am no stronger than the lowliest level one." I hear the crew gasp around me.
"What did you do?"
"It was a hack job that I learned about a while ago, while I was working with a friend of mine. He told me about it, but warned me not to use it except in the most extreme of an emergency. To make it so powerful, I poured all of my experience points into it." I stand up and look around. The Hell Boxes are frozen as they were just about to attack, but not paralyzed. According to their status, nothing was wrong.
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