2.60 Questing – Cavern of Squack
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Three young guys passed the old-timers after Flora commanded the Mover to drift to the tunnel wall. While one blond guy with a cowboy hat nodded to the oldies, the others joked loudly amongst themselves, ripping each other about wet pants.

"I guess we can forget a stealthy approach, now," Eddie said when the group had overtaken them. "Let's follow and see how making a racket goes for them."

"Sure. Are you diverting me from the subject? I still don't understand want went wrong with your Hero's Entrance. Did System steal your ship?"

The tunnel opened into a cave. Footbridges with a few boats docked branched off the shore. Chubby green parrots wearing bandanas bustled on them while red parrots with pirate hats flew through the cave, carrying parcels.

Eddie signaled Flora to stop. "The ceiling in the tunnel is lower. I feel safer here until I know whether the boys trigger a reenactment of the movie Birds." Eddie said. "And no, I gave up my vessel willingly."

"Warning! Warning! Intruder alert!" A parrot with a yellow belly and azure feathers croaked.

Name: Narc Polly

Type: Pirate-Parrot of Squack's Crew

Level: 1

Rating: E

The owlish green dock-worker parrots closest to the look-out stopped their work and looked around. Immediately, they spotted the three guys climbing out of the water and waddled towards them.

Name: Docky Polly

Type: Pirate-Parrot of Squack's Crew

Level: 2

Rating: D

"Warning! Warning! Intruder alert!" The yellow and azure plumaged Polly bawled.

The cowboy-hat guy shot the Narc Polly, and it tumbled off the pole, but even more Docky Pollies took notice. They swarmed the poor guys.

"Oh, dear. Should we help them?" Flora asked. The birds weren't strong with an RGS of 1, but the boys had dozens of them pecking at them. It didn't help that the beaks were at the height of their crotches.

"Only when they ask for it. Kill stealing is bad form." Eddie answered.

"Did you make up the expression 'kill stealing'?" Flora said. That was the most macho combination of words she had heard in a long time.

"No." Eddie smirked. "In other RPGs, the guy−or girl or other− who gets the last hit was attributed the kill. So people were pretty miffed when they fought a few minutes, and then a rogue materialized and took the kill from them. In the Cetviwos, it's all about contribution. So if we go in with blazing blenders, we would probably contribute more than them, and the pirate-parrots won't count for their bounty-quest."

One of the guys yelped several octaves higher than his gender suggested. The cowboy hat rained bullets while hiding behind the third guy who spun around with a greatsword. "Yes, we would definitely steal their contribution."

Flora grinned. "Throwing the shade, Mr. Burn." She chirped, and Eddie winked at her.

"I'll show you how the pro's do it." Eddie pranced to the far end of the beach. "First lection: Never get surrounded."

Eddie swam to the far end of the cave. Nearby, two boats with Docky Pollies were tied to the dock, and a Narc Polly was sitting on a pole. His old-timey gun boomed, and the Narc Polly fell into the water before it could even open its beak.

Flora expected the dockworkers to get spooked by the gun sound, but they never stopped bustling.

"Mob groups are usually linked. If you touch one of them, all will aggro. If you attack and keep your distance, they will ignore you. The Narc Polly is a special kind of mob. It will alert all nearby parrots."

"You lost me on the mob issue. They are pirates, right, and not mafiosi?"

Eddie inspected her calmly. "No. They are all part of the mafia; every monster in the Cetviwos is. They will extort you for your life and monetas!" He said seriously.

"And who is the godfather?"

"We don't know. Anyone could be it." Eddie looked at Flora like she was a premier suspect.

"You are pulling my leg, right?"

"I got you? I totally did!" Eddie burst into a fit of giggles.

Flora shrugged and smiled mysteriously. "Did you? Or maybe I'm the godmother of the mobs and want you to think that."

"Nah. Mob is the short form of mobile. Gamers use the term for computer-controlled NPCs." Eddie paused. "Okay, some mobs do act strangely around you. Maybe you are their godmother?"

Flora looked at the ceiling, whistling the theme song of the movie The Godfather.

"Nevertheless. The narc is dead, so we'll pull every group separately. By pulling, I mean attracting them to an advantaged location. You never fight mobs where they are because of patrols. Do you see those Carrier Pollies flying between the boats? They might join in. And when they are close enough to a second group, they might aggro as well."

"So aggro is a bit like a virus? You always have to keep the distance between groups, and if someone comes between them, it can spread?"

"You can see it like this. I'm not sure if the green Pollies leave their boats. We'll try it out." Eddie went near the wall. "Normally, tanks use line of sight, or LOS, pulling. They hit the group and hide behind a corner. So even if the group contains ranged mobs, they have to approach. We don't have a corner here, but from what I've seen in their fight with the boys, the Docky Pollies are melee fighters."

"Alright. Do you have the skill Transfer Aggro? You may use the Mover as a tank and aggro recipient."

Eddie didn't know about the skill, and Flora told him about it and the Sweeping Blow Aptitude Test.

"On 'Go' we rain on the nearest boat," Eddie said. "Three, Two, One, Go!"

(Right Hand:) <Transfer AoE: Mover>

(Left Hand:) <Lightning Storm>

(Right Hand:) <Hail>

The Golly joined in with Hail and Eddie with Acid Rain. The robots used their laser guns.

The poor parrots dropped the sacks and shuffled towards the rim of the boat. They weren't fast in the best of times. With Hail slowing them and the Lightning Storm shocking them, they didn't make any progress.

Five seconds later, they were dead without ever leaving the boat.

Flora glanced towards the three boys. She couldn't see their HP but hoped it was fuller than their ragged appearance suggested. They were still fighting, but only three parrots remained.

"Great. Next group." Eddie said and moved a bit closer to the next boat. Flora noticed that he stayed precisely 15 meters away, the max range for spells.

They repeated the same strategy for the next group of dockworkers. Flora used Access Leyline instead of Transfer AoE to conserve mana. The latter was on Cooldown and unnecessary due to the Pollies dying so fast.

While Flora applauded the efficiency of the approach, it lacked Eddie's usual flair. She glanced at him but couldn't discern any other emotion than concentration. On the one hand, she wanted to know what bothered him; on the other hand, she had sufficiently signaled her interest and willingness to listen. Any more would be nagging and she had reserved nagging for her desire for grandchildren. Until now, the situation wasn't dire enough to deviate.

Instead, Flora concentrated on their current adventure. Working, giant parrots in pirate attire seemed to be a tad unusual. Not that she was judging. And they were definitely less remarkable than rabid trashcans. Just to make sure that they weren't shape-changing pirates, she cast Salvage Animal on a few.

After they cleared the next boat, the docks were free of parrots up to the resting three-boy team. Eddie jumped onto the gangway, and Flora followed him.

<Power-Jump>

"Squawk!"

A Carrier Polly had spotted them. It dropped the satchel it had been carrying on Golly.

Two Octopussies, one Golly, one Mover, one grandparent, and one auntie who wished she was a grandparent fired spells and lasers at the flying parrot.

It flapped its wings, and a gust of air whipped the team.

Thanks to the heavy mech-suit, Flora had no problems with it. However, the blast threw the golly and Eddie's Octopussy into the water and rattled Eddie and the Mover. Aito's Octopussy had gripped a pole and continued to bombard the Polly with Rapid Fire.

Flora used lightning and ice again, and the bird started to slow down. It still conjured gusts, but less frequently. As frost was coating the wings, its flight became unsteady. When the Golly's ice spells joined Flora's, the bird had to land.

It waddled to Flora, and she killed it with a kick.

The group passed the three boys and ventured deeper into the cave, killing all the Pollies on the way.

The gangway branched off, and Eddie always took the left turn.

"The right way is left." He said and winked when Flora asked him about it. "It's an old adventurer tradition when exploring mazes or tunnel systems."

"I wonder why? I can see that if you always turn left, you decrease the chance of losing your way. But why not right?" Flora said. "Oh, I know. Probably because most people are righties, if they creep around the corner to their left, they lead with their weapon side. You’re a lefty, though."

"Interesting, I never questioned the tradition. You might be on to something. The strategy works well in finding the middle of a labyrinth, too."

As they proceeded, they found signs of recent fights and areas without any Pollies. Of course, they met other groups, too. Nobody challenged them when they passed. To Flora's astonishment, many just sat on the planks, eating, drinking, and chatting.

"So many of the young people are picnicking. It's not the most romantic location. There might be benefits to snacking here." Flora said and fetched a cheese toast to test it out.

"They are just regenerating their pool values, love," Eddie said, grinning. "It's a common issue in most games, at least for some builts."

Flora shook her head. The mix of walking and fighting already aggravated her; if she had to take breaks on top of it, she would retire from adventuring. Either just walking would be nicer or more combat. The strange mixture of stop and go made it difficult to get into a rhythm.

At last, they reached an extensive cave. A sailing ship docked at the end of the pier with several players lounging on its deck.

"Hey, you're here for Squack, too?" A girl said to them.

"Indeed we are, young lady," Eddie answered with his movie-star smile.

The girl blushed and waved her hand.

Elishara Grandwitch invites you to their party.

Do you want to join?

(Y/N)

Flora accepted when Eddie nodded to her. "Thank you, that's nice of you. You shouldn't have. We may not look like it, but we are quite capable!"

"Uhm, sure. It's just more practical. The bird needs 15 minutes to respawn, and you would have to wait if you didn't join. By then, the next group may have arrived, and who knows if they are nice enough to talk it out or just steal the kill."

Flora felt enlightened. Waiting in line to kill something was a novel concept.

"Just fire at when it appears," Eddie said. "With this many comrades, we don't have to care about tactics."

"Who dares to step on Captain Squack's boat?" A voice boomed from the ceiling of the cave, and a car-sized parrot flew toward them. The bird looked like someone had asked him what pirate identifier he wanted: Captain's hat, bandana, hook-hand (in his case hooks at the tips of his wings), peg-leg, striped shirt or eye-patch, and he had answered with "Yes" or maybe "Aye".

Name: Pirate Parrot Captain Squack

Class: Pirate Captain of Squack's Crew

Level: 2

Rating: B

RGS: 3

The players sprang into action and aimed their guns and bows at the bird. When it came into rifle range, Flora activated her rocket launcher.

<Set Mark>

<Power Shot>

As soon as the bird reached spell range, Flora switched to two Astral Spring-powered Ice Beams. The players around her threw everything they had on the parrot.

When it swooped down, Flora wasn't worried. There were so many other attackers around her. Why should it choose her?

However, the bird seemed to have settled its flight path destination to her. Flora took three steps to the right, and it corrected its course.

Flora's mind went into overdrive while her arms were still extended and ejected Ice Beams on autopilot. Should she Fade? Cast a shield? Which one? Her new favorite! Roll away? Hop overboard? Blame Eddie for everything horrible in life? Yes!

<Ice Beam> <Fade> <Eddie Stinks> <Ice Shield Cyclone> <I bow to you and roll with it>!

As Flora dived, frosty shields exploded out of her. Most hit the parrot captain like shuriken; others cycled around the group of players, and one hit Eddie on the head.

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