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63 The guilds are marching!

 Notifications crowded Dave's HUD.

Level Up!

Level Up!

...

Dave was leveling up at a ridiculous rate thanks to Drahma's rampage through the Capra horde.

Drahma swung his 'pillar of doom,' crushing more bison-size goats into bloody pulp.

Dave was using [Spectral Bomb] for AOE damage, hitting multiple targets, and getting Support-EXP when Drahma killed the damaged mobs. If he did even a single point of damage to a mob he got EXP when Drahma killed it.

As far as Dave knew, no player in Conquest had ever been power-leveled by a game NPC or mob, let alone a boss mob.

I wish the Undead Boyz were here, they would have gotten so many levels from this little massacre.

Lone Arrow watched Drahma advance into the horde and mow them down in droves. The rhythmic swings of his iron pole threshed through bone, flesh and hide like so much wheat.

"Damn. I gotta get some of that!"

She drew back on her bow and loosed an arrow at a Capra just before Drahma stepped forward and flattened it along with four others, splashing blood and ichor everywhere.

She winced at the gory spectacle, but her greed for EXP overrode her revulsion. She nocked, drew and loosed arrows at the mobs as fast as she could move her hands. She didn't even have to aim at the massed mobs, and she didn't bother using her skills, knowing she would get EXP for any amount of damage she did to the dying monsters.

"What Level are you?" she asked Dave. She was giddy from watching her HUD EXP numbers spinning up so quickly.

"72"

"This is so wicked! I'm at 66, I went up 4 levels in just a few minutes!" She was squealing like a teen fan-girl.

Dave grinned and threw a Spectral Bomb at a group of capra and detonated it, staggering them.

Drahma followed the explosion with an earth-shaking stomp that generated an expanding wave of rapidly thrusting stone spears. Capras dropped in an ever widening circle around them, disemboweled by the impaling stone wedges.

"73."

Drahma exterminated the entire herd, thousands of the goat-monsters, in a matter of minutes. The culling was so fast they received damage 'assists' on less than a quarter of the monsters in the horde. Dave's draugr was now at level 76. He'd gotten three levels from the slaughter. Lone managed to edge Dave out with a four level gain, ecstatic at reaching level 70 so quickly.

"Thank you, Drahma," said Dave.

"I will be with you for a while longer, my friend. Continue with your mission, I shall guard you," he replied.

"Yeah! More power-leveling!" Lone Arrow clasped her hands in front of her prayer fashion, almost dancing with glee.

"Remember, there's at least one super-guild hunting us."

"So...? What's the plan then? Let's go kill another horde or two, this archer-girl needs EXP!"

Dave looked away at the horizon, stalling to come up with a plan. And trying not to chuckle at Lone's antics. He knew her weakness now, free EXP.

"I don't know. But look," he finally answered, pointing far across the valley.

There, a mountain rose out of a lake. It loomed high over the other mountains, its peak hidden in the clouds.

Dave shrugged, "That mountain looks significant. Let's head over there and make stuff happen.".

Dave led off, walking briskly. Lone Arrow started to follow, but yelped and jumped back when Drahma intercepted her, his tree-trunk fingers circled around her, blocking any retreat.

"Drahma, she's a friend!"

"You are friends with the Living?"

Dave knew the Dead and the Living were not supposed to mingle together. Drahma's question held many meanings.

"She is...someone I know from another place."

"She is someone from your former Life? Strange, few undead remember Life. But, if she is a friend of yours, then she will be a friend of mine." He pulled his hand away.

"Lady of the Elven race, I greet you. I am Drahma the Unfettered."

Before they could react Drahma reached out again, this time he swept both Lone and Dave up and cradled them in the palm of one bulldozer size hand.

"With your tiny strides it will take too long to get to the mountain. I will carry you."

Traveling like this will no doubt widen our lead on the guildies. But a level-zero noob could track us across the valley floor.

Drahma's feet crushed the volcanic rock beneath them with every step, leaving a trail of massive sunken footprints behind them.

We'll be okay if Drahma's four hour timer is still running when they catch up to us. But the moment he turns into a pumpkin we'll have to bug-out fast, maybe even before then.

Dave looked out from his perch, seeing the mountains ahead, the rift-scarred sky and the shattered moon above them.

This may be just a fantasy VR, but I feel comfortable, like I belong here.

The Devastator's C groups arrived at the Dark Threading dungeon and joined the A groups already in the region.

Every good-sized guild in Conquest had information networks and employed legions of spies, so the Devastator's full-scale mobilization would not be unnoticed by their competition. But the Devastators' strategists and logisticians predicted the involvement of other super-guilds, and had plans for many scenarios.

The C-groups brought the supplies and material to resist a full investment by invading armies. All the Devastators worked to clear-cut a large expanse for construction and open fields of fire, then they raised a maze of defensive earthworks. Engineers set trap-fields and constructed hardened fortifications to prepare for invaders.

Soon after the C-groups arrived, a raid-party of one thousand players entered the dungeon. They were the vanguard division, lower level groups sent in to perform a reconnaissance-in-force. Most had average levels around 150, but each squad of five was led by a player between level 200 and 300. Every one of 'The Thousand' were volunteers, 'for the good of the clan,' and they had little chance of surviving the Underworld. But risk was a part of gaining loot and glory.

Warlord stood with some of the A groups stationed outside the dungeon entrance. With him were sub-guild leaders, top-rankers, specialists and VIPs.

The Dark Threading dungeon was located in the Devastator controlled western part of the Conquest world. The other two super-guilds, Blood-Rage and Heaven's Dawn, were still at war with each other But if they called a truce, or worse, allied against the Devastators, there would be a battle royale at the dungeon. Even if they failed to take the dungeon from the Devastators the conflict would interfere with the Underworld raid.

A player standing nearo warlord spoke up impatiently,"Warlord! When are we going in?!"

The full-plate-peacocking VIP was one of Devastator's major investors.

"Soon, Satan Slayer. We are waiting for word of the raid progress at the Underworld portal and the other side. Once they clear the area for a sufficient area for a forward base we will join them. Don't worry we will be the first to take on quests and kill any bosses that are found."

Satan Slayer was fidgeting, unable to hide his impatience to run the new expansion.

Warlord pinged Valentin, "Jeez, this guy. Like a kid wanting his pudding before the meat."

Valentin, joined them in his pink full-armor set, and addressed the investor, "I know we are all eager to explore and loot. We are following procedures to maximize safety and profit at personal and organizational levels.

"We sent the C groups in ahead as pathfinders. They will trip any surprises and absorb some breakage our higher levels cannot afford to because of the no re-entry.

"Until they report what waits for us in the Underworld we will remain here as additional surety for the entrance defenses. We will have an additional security point at the Underworld portal and more as needed according to our progress in the Underworld.," said Valentine

The VIP kept looking at Valentin's armor, then quickly away. The neon-pink armor was a Named scaling-set, Heart-Striker, and its color was Valentin's decision. That his choice of color stirred cliché insecurities of some hyper-male types was just another bonus as far as he was concerned.

Valentin played as a 'Guardian,' a support class. The various flavors of the 'tank' class specialize in defense and skills that attract and increase mob aggro or transfer it from others onto themselves.

Guardians specialize in mob-control skills. Their primary role is to protect allies from mob attacks. Although Guardians aren't actually 'tanks,' in a pinch they can temporarily fill the role as off-tanks.

In Conquest there were a handful of players, with high-end gear, who developed the skills and potential of the Guardian class to maximum effectiveness. These few 'savants' were able to fulfill the role of group-tank as competently as any 'true' tank character, and in some cases more so.

The player who pioneered the unconventional methods and tactics for Guardians-as-true-Tanks, and made the class famous, was Valentin.

Valentin was also the holder of a Legacy title, The Metamorphosing-Man, an A class Legacy, one of the most powerful in the game. But that came much later, after acquiring Heart-Striker and popularizing his Guardian class innovations.

Valentin first encountered Warlord in Conquest. They were new players who happened to join the same pick-up-group, or PUG. Valentin's play style and Guardian class synergized with Warlord's so well they formed an adventuring partnership that would become a legend among players. In the simplest terms, Valentine just made sure Warlord never OT-ed him, which allowed Warlord to play damage-dealer with no concern about his own aggro level, knowing the Guardian had his back.

"I remember doing this dungeon, that damned pig killed us so many times." Warlord was smiling.

"Good times," said Valentin.

"Yeah, and here we are again. Things are so different now." Warlord looked into the distance. But he snapped back immediately, duty called. Always.

"No need to dwell on the past, Warlord. The fight with the Greater Chaos demon is about to start. I am tracking the players' progress. It won't be a challenge for A groups, but the C members will benefit from the level difference. And they need practice to adjust to the new Evade system."

"I understand," replied Warlord. "If we luck into one of the worst case scenarios, my Legacy transformation is off cooldown." Warlord patted his Battle-ax affectionately.

"Same for me. Hopefully we can save them for any big-bosses we find, or the other super-guilds," Valentine said pointedly.

The two friends waited patiently for more updates.