“Incoming!” yelled a large green woman with a deep scratchy voice. She charged toward the river with the feline mob chasing behind.
“Varta!” Coral yelled. “You weren’t supposed to pull big game like this, I asked for mud golems!”
“Fight first, argue later please!” Varta barreled toward Coral as Coral readied her bow. She peered at the large cat while she aimed.
>> Level 29 Cheetah.
Cheetah? Not undead cheetah, or demon cheetah? That was encouraging.
Coral grabbed a regular arrow and let it fly at the cheetah’s face while Ernest tried to hide behind Coral. Coral was no tank, but she couldn’t blame the lowbie fisherman for using her as a shield. He’d probably never even seen a mob before.
The cat reached a paw up and knocked Coral’s arrow out of the air before it could hit. Varta stepped forward, her own paws at the ready. She was a Level 38 General, but her weapon of choice was a little untraditional. She fought with a pair of bear claws strapped onto her hands like taxidermized mittens.
“No!” Coral yelled. “Varta, don’t attack it. Just protect Ernest.” Varta could destroy that cat with the long yellow claws extending from her furry brown mitts, but slashing it to shreds would ruin the pelt. It would be a waste of a perfectly good animal hide.
Varta looked unsure, but stepped back from the cat anyway, inching closer to the river. Ernest ran behind Varta, whose massive body provided better coverage than Coral’s narrow frame ever could. Coral took a few paces away from the river to give Varta and Ernest some distance.
“He’s an elf,” Varta said, glancing at the small Angler over her shoulder.
“I know,” Coral said, “but he’s one of the good ones, I promise.”
“Yeah,” Ernest said, “I hate the queen. Long live the ogres!”
The cheetah looked at Varta, covered in a hard, black armor, and then at Coral, whose leathery armor was crafted from the hide of a fish monster. The choice was clear. Coral would be the easier target to sink those massive teeth into. In fact, to the large cat, she probably looked like a walking fish, perfect for a morning meal.
Coral drew back her bow and aimed again, waiting for the cat to get a little closer. When she loosed her arrow, there wasn’t time for the monster to swat at it. It landed in the cheetah’s cheek just below the eye.
>> Cheetah takes 109 Damage.
The mob’s HP bar barely budged. The cat leapt twelve feet into the air, arcing toward Coral. She rolled out of the way and sprang back to her feet in one smooth motion.
>> Congratulations! You are now at Combat Roll 2.
She wanted more information about what Combat Roll did for her, but she didn’t have time to dwell on that. Coral grabbed another arrow from her quiver and pulled her bowstring taut. She held it there and used her mind, and 10 MP, to heat the arrow up. Her Hot Shot arrow gleamed red, then yellow, then white hot before she shot it at the cheetah’s face. It struck between the eyes, singeing its fur.
>> Cheetah takes 348 Damage.
That was more like it. Coral nocked another arrow when the animal shook its head violently, dislodging the arrow from its skull. It charged at her. Coral’s arrow heated up, but not quickly enough to activate Hot Shot before the cheetah was on top of her. The mob rammed into her legs, knocking her to the ground face first.
Coral rolled onto her back, expecting the monster to pounce, but the cat darted away. Ernest had panicked and started running away from the river and toward the sprawling canvas tents that comprised the Ogrelands. The quick movement attracted the predator’s attention. The cat pivoted on its hind legs and pursued Ernest faster than his short legs could run. Varta ran after them yelling and brandishing her bear claws.
Coral still didn’t want to pierce that beautiful pelt, but she knew the cheetah would kill Ernest if it caught him. That would send him back to Level 1, and he’d lose all of his items and gold. It was the harshest penalty for death in a game that Coral had heard of. Travail had the largest player base by far though, so Arbyten likely thought it could treat players however it wanted. If a player died, whatever money they hadn’t cashed out would go back to the corporate coffers.
If not an arrow, then what? Coral reached into her inventory bag and grabbed… a fish. She took aim and threw the fish at the cat, landing its slimy body in the grass just ahead of the feline.
>> Congratulations! You have unlocked Throw. At higher levels, you can Throw heavier objects without sacrificing accuracy. Current Throw capacity: 35 lbs. (5 lbs. + Base Strength 30).
The cheetah stopped short and sank its teeth into the fish, swallowing the small meal. A +100 appeared above its head as it downed the restorative food. Coral didn’t mind. The few seconds the cat paused to eat allowed her to heat up another arrow and let it fly.
It sank into the cheetah’s neck just below the chin, burning a hole so hot and so fast that it cauterized the wound. Only a few drops of blood escaped before the hole was sealed shut.
>> Cheetah takes 691 Damage. [Burning].
The monster tried to roar in pain, but Coral’s arrow had melted into its throat, rendering its voice small and hoarse. It writhed as its HP bar lost another chunk of life. It was nearing the end. Coral stepped backward as she readied another arrow. The longer the cheetah kept that smoldering arrow in its neck, the closer it would get to running out of HP.
Although, maybe time wasn’t on Coral’s side. Varta looked antsy. She clearly wanted to take a swipe at this thing. Before long she might give in to that desire. Coral couldn’t bank on having extra time. If she shot the cheetah herself, she might leave a scar. If she waited, Varta might slice the mob to bits.
The cat charged at her, as another -28 appeared over it. Coral activated Hot Shot. She aimed for the monster’s neck and hoped for the best, but the arrow missed its target.
Rather, the arrow went exactly where it was supposed to go. Its target just wasn’t there anymore.
As Coral released her bowstring, the ground rumbled and a massive sinkhole opened under the cheetah, swallowing the cat. Varta jumped backward to get clear of the sinkhole as earth continued to collapse into the pit.
Just as the ground caved in, two shapes sprang up from the crumbling dirt. They were small, dark shadows draped in thin black gauze. They weaved through the air like kites with no strings. Coral gave one of them a hard stare.
>> Level 9 Ruined Soul.
Whatever they were, they were born from the ground’s collapse and they weren’t friendly. Coral shot an arrow at the closer of the two, but it went straight through the dark shape.
The twin shadows twirled above. One spun toward Coral as the other headed for Varta. Varta swiped her hand out, the long sharp claws of her weapon passing through the ruined soul as if it weren’t there.
Coral shot again. Even though her aim was perfect, her arrow made no contact. “I think they’re impervious to physical attacks!”
Varta just kept slashing.
With 120 MP left, Coral had plenty of Hot Shots still at her disposal. She hoped a little imbued magic would make her arrows more effective. The ghostly fiend came closer and Coral released, sending the flaming arrow into the mysterious mob. It lodged in the shadowy shape and stuck there, casting a faint orange light from inside the wispy fabric that hung from its ethereal form. The monster lingered in the air for a moment before the arrow extinguished and the ruined soul fell to the ground, defeated.
>> Ruined Soul takes 612 Damage.
>> Ruined Soul dies. You receive 900 XP.
The mob was worth way more XP than Coral was used to from such a low level enemy, but she couldn’t focus on that at the moment. One of the evil shadows continued after Varta. Coral pulled back her bow and sent a Hot Shot into the air, but the mob evaded it. She’d have to get closer to prevent the spirit from darting out of the way.
With her bow ready, Coral ran toward the remaining ruined soul. She stood next to the sinkhole, heating up a Hot Shot when the dark ghost pivoted and dived toward her. Coral bent to the side as the mob pitched through the air just inches from her exposed neck. Goosebumps prickled from her shoulder to her ear as the air turned cold.
She teetered on the edge of the sinkhole but turned on her heel and shot her burning arrow into the second mob, slaying it with fiery magic and regaining her balance.
>> Ruined Soul takes 598 Damage.
>> Ruined Soul dies. You receive 900 XP.
>> Congratulations! You have improved your Ranged combat ability to 11. Total Dexterity bonuses: +22% at close range, +15% at medium range, +10% at long range.
>> Congratulations! You have reached Level 41. To apply your 13 skill points now, open your Skills and Attributes screen.
As Coral lowered her bow, the cheetah leapt from the deep hole that had caved in. Its powerful forepaws landed on Coral’s shoulder blades and the cat’s weight pressed down on her, pinning her to the ground facedown. Coral struggled to roll onto her back and look up at the beast. Then a -28 appeared above its head and it collapsed on top of her, dead. The whole time the ruined souls attacked, the cheetah had been burning alive in that pit.
>> Cheetah dies. You receive 78 XP.
Coral pushed the dead cat off of her and got to her feet. Aside from one wound on the underside of the cheetah’s neck and a few facial scars, its hide was in great shape.
She hadn’t expected to level up that morning, but those ruined souls gave her a nice chunk of XP. At Level 9, they were worth almost twelve times the experience points she earned from slaying a Level 29 Cheetah. She glanced quickly at her stats to see how she was shaping up, realizing her numbers would include the bonuses from the sahuagin suit she had made for herself. Even with its low durability, it still helped.
She had planned to use her skill points on Earthweaving but without any viable mud to sculpt, that didn’t seem urgent.
Varta bounded up to Coral and pointed at the dead cat. “Do it, please!” she said.
“Do what?” Coral asked, still trying to catch her breath. After spending a week on the outskirts of the Ogrelands, Coral had gradually become fluent in ogrish. Varta, however, was a confusing person even without a language barrier.
“That thing you do, with outfit making,” she said. “I want to be a sexy cheetah. Rawr!”
Coral and Ernest both laughed. Varta’s head was too big for her body, and lopsided. She lacked a few teeth, had three brass rings in her nose, and her hair was a black tangle of impossible knots and debris. Coral’s Skinweaving skill wouldn’t turn her into a sexy anything.
Still, she might craft something to improve Varta’s current look. She still wore a vest Coral had crafted on her first visit to the Ogrelands. It was comprised of giant cockroach husks held together with antennae and the sticky webbing she had extruded from a dead arackid’s abdomen. It was low durability body armor to start with though, and Varta’s vest had taken a beating since then — figuratively and literally.
“Sexy cheetah!” Varta yelled and beat her fists against her cockroach vest, filling the air with a drumming sound. She kept tapping on the vest, creating a melody that only she could appreciate.
Another ogre jogged toward them in the distance, her massive belly bobbing back and forth as she shuffled slowly across the grassy plains. It was Aga, another ogre that Coral had clothed her first time here.
“Varta,” she panted. “Runs too. Fast.” Sweat dripped down the woman’s plain, flat face.
“Nah,” Varta said. “You just need to go on a diet. More meat! More pie! Not enough food to fuel your legs.” Varta shook her head.
“No mud golems?” Coral asked, her eyes on Aga.
“No, sorry Coral_Daring,” Aga said.
“I was hoping that with your Dirt Mage class you would lure at least one toward us,” Coral said. “I needed the mud to make sodshell armor.”
“Mud?” Aga asked. “If all you need is mud, I can help with that.” The green woman lifted her arms in the air and the phrase Chocolate Rain appeared above her head. Large globs of mud started to fall from the sky, each landing on the grass with a splat. One landed on Coral’s head and slid down her hair before resting on her shoulder.
“I’m glad there’s no friendly fire here,” Coral said. “I’d hate to see what that spell would have done to me otherwise. Probably some sort of a Filthy debuff.”
Aga blushed, as best a woman with green skin can. The magical mud vanished once Aga’s spell was done.
“You have some strange friends,” Ernest said.
“I know,” Coral said. “There’s this one guy, he spends all day dipping a string in the river. Total weirdo.”
She walked over to where the ruined souls’ incorporeal bodies had fallen. Each had left behind a few death’s veils, long patches of black gauze that radiated with a purple, almost neon glow.
“What were those things?” Ernest asked.
“I don’t know,” Coral said, “but they left behind some material called a death’s veil. I wonder if I could craft with it.”
“If those were creatures of death,” Aga said, “Thanaker probably sent them. Why would he send death at us?”
“Maybe we’ll find out more at the Death Festival,” Coral said with a shrug. “For now though, you’ll want to go back to the river.”
“Why’s that?” Ernest asked.
“Because there may be more than one way to skin a dead cat, but I don’t know any of them. And this is about to get messy.”