The blue and green points in the mini map were still as far as ever from the shining gold one.
“This is taking so long! At first, I thought we were making progress, but now, it’s as if we’re stuck in the same place. We’re not getting any closer to that damn golden thing and we’ve been running for an hour already!”
Kazumi’s outburst wasn’t without reason. For half an hour already, their feet kept pushing forward but the minimap didn’t acknowledge such effort.
Shesmu put his finger on his lips. A voice in the background became clearer by the second.
“It’s the hounds. Everyone, get in position! Monsters are coming! Arthur, hold the left flank. Big guy, hold the right!”
“It’s Hector, and leave it to me! Ha!”
“Everyone, Everlast will not be outclassed by the Apollyon party! Whoever gets the most kill, I will pay dinner for later. Be it Le Chaudron or Lucky Cat, just fuck up my wallet!”
“You heard him, guys. I’m gonna get that dub and order everything on the menu! Dear little Arthur will be much lighter. I’m sure that he can finally get on a date after this one.”
“Hey, you little shits. Keep talking crap and you’ll see if your girlfriend doesn’t break up with you tomorrow. Next thing you know, you’ll get a video of us in Hawai pop up in your feed.”
“Haha, Owl, you really have balls. Last time you pissed off captain, he got a hobo to stalk for a week!”
“He paid a hobo to stalk?!”
“Hahaha! Dude, that was the funniest thing I have ever seen! You guys are new so you don’t know, but the captain is really one crazy dude!”
While the men were laughing boorishly between themselves, Julia took small steps towards Arthur while fidgeting with her hands.
“Arthur, are you going to have dinner with the winner too?”
“Sure, I’ll do that. It’s not as if I have anything to do today.”
Julia’s eyes brightened up, and her fidgeting hands finally calmed down at Arthur’s response.
“Hmm, okay, then it’s decided!”
The whole platoon of thirty-five players unsheathed their sword and readied their stance. Shesmu heard the rapid barking of the hounds and dashed towards it. One of the beasts lunged at him and he clashed with its claws.
Shesmu then kicked the hounds back legs, throwing it off balance. With a single swing, Shesmu cut its neck and ended the beast’s life.
“Everyone, these monsters are weak. One shot and they die!”
The moral of the group improved drastically. The gloomy atmosphere that surrounded the players throughout the whole journey faded away. These players already suffered multiple losses on the previous floors due to their devious and cunning nature. A straightforward battle like this one was all they needed to relieve the stress that they had accumulated.
While Shesmu kept fighting off the horde of hounds, his eyes darted left and right. He was scanning the battlefield for any sign of suspicious activity. Hector’s team that was holding the right flank did a marvelous job at fighting off the beasts. Hector would hold off the monsters with his giant ax, while his teammate would focus down one hound at a time. This way, they were able to lessen the pressure on Hector.
Arthur’s party, on the other hand, was much more aggressive. They would fight one on one against the hounds, or at max two on one. None of their fighters took more than half a minute to dispatch of his enemy.
Mechanically, they’re decent. Well other than the six on the back that struggles even with a two on one.
Arthur’s group was separated into two, four were leading the charge while six took care of any monster that managed to slip in.
Their chemistry is also nothing to brag about.
While Arthur and his closest friends didn’t show exactly a marvelous feat of synchronization, they at the very least didn’t stand in the way of each other. The six in the back had trouble just swinging the sword correctly. When they tried to help each, they would need to tell the person holding the aggro to get out of the way in fear of hitting them.
Seems like newbies. I guess that those four were part of the same group for a long time now, while the six in the back just joined them today.
However, the most astounding spectacle was performed by Julia. Rapier in hand, she skewered the enemies in front of her like swiss cheese. Her movements had a grace not seen in your random average player.
Interesting, her steps are purposeful. Good footwork.
Julia was on constant movement, her feet never stopped. Whether it be a side step into a counter or a back step to dodge the hounds’ swipes, Julia’s feet never betrayed her.
“Hey, Leo, Kazumi, Amaterasu, come here.”
At this point, Hector and Arthur’s parties already took care of most of the hounds coming their way. There wasn’t much to do for Shesmu’s party, so he took the liberty of calling them back.
“What’s going on, Shesmu? Did you find something weird? Nyarlathotep perhaps?” asked Leo.
“No, I’m still not sure about that. What I wanted you to look at are Julia’s movements.”
“Ohh? Don’t tell me? Are you interested in her?” teased Amaterasu.
“No way! Shesmu would never do that!”
Kazumi’s outburst surprised the party.
“Wait, don’t tell me, is Kazumi perhaps still shy about the birds and the bees?”
Leo’s remark made Amaterasu laugh her heart out while Shesmu just shook his head.
“You’d think that in a world where everyone is dying to monsters, kids would learn about procreation much sooner. You know, for the survival of mankind and whatnot.”
“Hey, stop making fun of me!”
While Kazumi was pouting, Shesmu just smiled and thought, Well, at the very least he stopped calling me a great master. I guess that’s a step forward.
Seeing that Amaterasu was still laughing and Leo shaking his head, Shesmu thought to remind of the reason for their meeting.
“Ahem, moving on. What I want you to do now is to look at Julia’s movement and tell me what you see. We can go from there.”
The trio then focused on the rapier-wielding Julia. Her quick and precise thrusts were a sight to behold.
“She is very quick. Her reaction timing is insane. The moment the hounds leave an opening, she pounces on it with no hesitation,” Leo remarked.
“No, that’s not her reaction time. She is predicting their movements, that’s why she can land those hits with such accuracy and speed,” Amaterasu rebuked
Shesmu listened to both of them but turned towards Kazumi to know his opinion before giving his final judgment.
“Kazumi, what about you? What do you think?”
“Eh, hum. I think that the movements of that sister are very pretty. It’s as if she is dancing.”
“Kazumi being all romantic, you must have been very popular with girls back where you came from,” deduced Leo.
“Dancing,” Shesmu muttered. “You’re not wrong. Actually, of all answers, yours is the closest to the truth. What she is doing actually has nothing to do with prediction or reaction timing. Those are a given once you reach a certain level. What she is doing is called tethering.”
Shesmu then unsheathed his sword and started drawing with its edge on the sandy floor.
“Here, let’s say that this stick figure is Julia, and this one is her opponent. For this example’s sake, let’s say that both Julia and her opponent have the same range.”
Shesmu then drew two circles covering the stick figures.
“These circles are the range of attack. What she is doing is standing right at the edge of her opponent’s circle and going in and out. What she is doing is laying a bait, the moment that the opponent thinks that she is in his range, he attacks. However, attacks don’t land instantaneously, there is a delay between his decision to attack and the landing of it. What she is doing is using this delay to get out of his range of attack. The opponent then misses the hit and leave himself full of openings.”
Shesmu erased the drawings and stood up.
“Well, that’s all. Now, you guys just need to train your ability to gauge your opponents’ range of attack. As you get better at that, you’ll become better warriors.”
The trio stayed speechless for a second before Shesmu snapped them out of their daze.
“What are you guys waiting for? Go and fight and implement what I just said. If you let it be just all theory and never practice, you’ll never get good.”
Shesmu lightly tapped Kazumi and Amaterasu on the back before turning towards Leo.
“Keep an eye on them, will ya?”
Leo just nodded his head and told Kazumi and Amaterasu to follow him.
Looking at their back, Shesmu smiled for a bit before his face turned serious. Once again, he scanned the whole terrain for any sign of suspicious activity. Even though he was 90% sure that Nyarlathotep was in Arthur’s party, tunnel visioning is never good.
After making sure that everyone was doing their job and that no suspicious activity was taking place, Shesmu called out Arthur.
“Hey, Arthur, come here for a second.”
“Owl, teach the new guys a little bit, will ya? Julia, keep an eye on them. Don’t let them get swarmed. I’ll go talk with Shesmu, I’ll be back in a minute.”
Arthur turned towards Shesmu and came in for a hug.
“Look who gave that marvelous speech. You were thrown the leadership role and you grabbed it by the balls.”
“You too, Arthur, look at you leading a party of ten like it’s nothing. Even the new guys are impressed! Haha!”
“Yeah, we met in the forest. Good bunch with great potential. Plus they signed a contract. That just makes them so much more precious in my eyes.”
“Haha, truly a guild leader. Didn’t take you even a couple hour to have five people sign. Scary, scary!”
“Haha, it’s not scary at all. We gave them great salaries, they get to play for ten hours a day, who wouldn’t that. Getting paid to play, just a couple of generations ago that was left only for top 0.1%. Now anyone can do it. Truly great times that we live in.”
“True, true. Well, I’m sure that they will do great in your guild when you already have such great teachers. Anyway, you remember what we talked about before? In the palace.”
Arthur thought for a second before responding, “What exactly? We talked about a lot.”
“I asked you how you made sure that your teammates were clear-”
“And I told you that they were clear. Shesmu, these guys have been with me for years. Other than the six guys who we heavily questioned, I would know immediately if some monster tried to disguise itself as them. Trust me.”
Shesmu looked at Arthur in the eyes and sighed. He then put his hand on top of Arthur’s shoulder.
“Arthur, I was thinking about it for a long time. And, I realized something. The monster must have access to its target’s memory, it just must. Else, there is no way it could ever disguise itself. Anyway, just be careful, will ya?”