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74 Final Preparations

 Warlord hefted his battle-ax over his shoulder and looked around to assess the condition of his party of Devastators. He'd just finished hacking and cutting an overly ambitious demonic snake into giant bloody chunks.

The demon creature had lunged out of the water and attacked them in a frenzy on the shore where they'd been waiting for more Devastator parties to gather.

Several shabby-looking wooden boats were beached above the noxious waters of the lake. In order to reach the soon to be disputed Underworld raid-zone, the Devastators needed to cross the dangerous waters in those boats.

The disturbances further out on the lake was a sign of more outsized creatures under the murky surface. Probably as crazy-aggressive as 'Chunks' had been.

Though they would not be any protection from monster attacks, the rickety boats were a much better alternative to swimming across the grim looking lake.

A game notification popped up in his vision, he skimmed the systemwide message and turned to Valentine.

"What do you think about this Val?"

Conquest Server Announcement!

Special Quest. Rank: A

The Dead-Realm does not yet have permanent control of the first Underworld Raid-Zone.

Demonstrate your might and determination. Eliminate the forces of the Dead in the area to seize control over the first Raid-zone and extend your stay in the Underworld for an indeterminate time.

You have four hours to secure the area.

Bonus Quest

Bounty Target!

Special Contract Target: draugr (image below). Eliminate with Extreme Prejudice.

Rewards for completion:

+5 levels

25 000 Gold

unique skill [Undead-Bane sunder!]

"Unfortunate," said Valentine.

"Why unfortunate?" warlord asked

"We might lose possession of the gate now,"

Valentine switched to voice chat and addressed the Devastators outside the dungeon.

"Full alert! All members defend the Dark-Threading dungeon gates, all-out effort. No one enters!"

"Aren't you overreacting? We signed a contract, right? The guilds won't do anything to break the agreement on the contract,"

"I am not worried about the guilds. Think about it, five levels and a unique skill, plus the reward of extended time in the Underworld. The guilds might encourage their players to resign and try to enter the dungeon. The Devastators must be the ones to takedown the draugr."

Warlord turned and what he saw confirmed Valentine's prediction. The advance of the other guild-groups had turned into a frantic race. Greed-driven players raced right over the backs of any of their fellow guildies who couldn't stay ahead of the rush.

"We move faster. Priority One A is finding the damn draugr and killing him. Sacrifice anything and anyone to make it happen. "

The game system had set the boats to be available to everyone, whenever one was launched another boat would soon appear in its place.

The players took to the boats and hurriedly rowed toward the mountain shore.

With the endless availability of watercraft, the surface of the lake between the shore and the mountain became an almost solid mass of boats, all competing to reach the other side before their neighbors.

Warlord and his party rowed across the lake without incident. Pulling hard on the oars to beach the boat they were surprised at how crowded the shoreline was. Thousands of players were milling around without apparent purpose or direction instead of pursuing the Server Quest.

As soon as their boat scraped onto the sandy beach, Warlord jumped off and pushed his way up the slope through the throngs of players. He finally broke through the front edge of the crowd and stopped abruptly. The sight that greeted him was an unexpected, and most unwelcome, one.

A dozen towers loomed up in a layered defensive pattern protecting the cavern entrance.

Undead glared down at the players through the arrowslits and embrasures.

The flat meadow in front of the fortifications was cleared and packed with ranks of Undead heavy infantry. The massively armed and armored Undead in archaic-looking but undoubtedly effective equipment stood shoulder to shoulder, an unmoving wall of threat and danger, not a hint of reaction to the proximity of the players, just steady Undead glares.

The guildies were excited at the chance of loot and exp gains. Though the overwhelming numbers of enemies and their high levels also had many players shifting restlessly and clenching their weapons in sweaty palms.

"Hold here! Form up in your battle-squares!" ordered Warlord, simultaneously using the raid-channel and shouting.

The other super-guilds were doing the same, sorting themselves into battle formations on the shore.

In minutes the immediate stretch of shoreline was filled with tightly organized blocks of players, forcing the seemingly endless numbers of players still rowing across the lake to beach their boats and disembark farther down the shore line.

The leaders of the two super-guilds, Zhang-Shi and Wan Yi, had signaled Warlord for a parley. With their seconds at their sides they marched briskly through the Devastators formations and approached Warlord and Valentine.

After perfunctory courtesies, the leader of Blood Rage Zhang-Shi began, "We need to get through this chokepoint as quickly as possible. The most expeditious path is to attack with equal numbers of players from each guild."

Valentine sent a private message to warlord, 'They are correct. The first force to enter the crucible will suffer enormous casualties, and the last might not reap any of the rewards. A mixed force, of equal numbers from all three guilds is the best course of action.'

"Agreed. We will each send in five thousand members, and two thousand every ten minutes after that," Warlord proposed.

Looking at Wan Yi, sworn enemy and rival, Zhang Shi spoke, "We need to cooperate on this one.

"I propose Blood-Rage forces take the towers, and Heaven's Dawn forces take the frontline, we will send reinforcement to every section and rotate in between whenever the need arises." said Valentine.

Valentine and Warlord looked to the silent leader of the Heaven's-Dawn guild, stoic-faced but holding their breaths. It would be an enormous loss to all three of the guilds if they couldn't all work together on this, in both resources and face. In the long-term it could even topple one or all three of the super-guild's oligarchic reign as other guilds grew stronger.

"Huh, you are sending my people into the grinder! We will lose too many players with that plan, more than your guilds," said Wan Yi.

"I will be leading the frontal assault, to keep as many players as possible alive. We need Blood-Rage to neutralize the towers, we can't leave our backs exposed to a counter-assault. Especially if we make it through but leave the enemy elements behind us." answered Valentine.

Wan Yi was mollified, or at least dropped his objections. Everyone knew Valentine was the top Guardian in the game, having him at the frontline guaranteed fewer casualties. Especially with his Metamorphosing Man's Legacy Skills.

Valentine had the best skill-kit to protect huge groups of players at the same time, and has the skill to back it up.

"We will initiate a frontal assault with heavy armored formations to tank the Undead infantry and absorb the damage from their ranged damagers. The attacking force will be supported by mage, archer, and healer elements with a guard-reaction force to protect them.

"The frontal attack will be provide the cover for our rogues and assassins to flank their infantry, infiltrate the towers, and eliminate the archers," Valentine explained.

"Sounds like a good plan, what happens if we run into a boss-class monster?" Zhang-Shi asked.

"If it is not guarding the entrance to the cavern we ignore it, we can always come back for it after we secure the raid-zone for ourselves we don't have time to waste on bosses, the quest timer is almost up,"

"I'll send five thousand Blood Ragers to work with your groups, but they will be under direct command of a Blood Rage player," said Zhang-Shi.

"I will command the tanks and vanguards," Valentine stated calmly.

Wan-Yi snorted, clearly his nature was a reflection of his Berserker class. He was irritated at the idea of a Guardian leading a heavy assault even if it was a tank force.

"Oh, the great rubber-man will lead from the front?"

"We will lose fewer tanks if I lead, and do not call me that again." As he said the last, Valentine looked directly at Wan-Yi, the neutral gaze of an uncaring killing-machine. Kill or don't kill, the machine didn't care, it would do whatever was necessary to continue its chosen path.

The stand-off was interrupted from an unlikely source.

"We have a common goal, for the moment, and have agreed to work together. Let us do so with courtesy and respect." Zhang-Shi made calming motions with his hand.

"I ask to have Sand-Storm lead the rogue division that is to eliminate the archers. Is that agreeable?" He gestured to his second.

"I have heard of Sand-Storm and her exploits," Warlord looked at the assassin, "She is a good choice to lead the assault on the towers."

The silent woman nodded at the leader of the Devastators, then faded from normal sight as she turned and glided away.

Warlord almost rolled his eyes. Rogues. They loved to be sneaky, and were never quite comfortable unless they were Stealthed up.

"Then it fall to me to lead the mages," the player next to Wan-Yi spoke.

Everyone stared at the white-robed. Glaze, the right hand of the Heaven's Dawn, and according to all the rumors and intelligence reports, the shot-caller of the guild, the power behind the throne.

If it any of the other players present said those words, he would have been ignored or reprimanded. But not this wizzy character, the holder of an A class Legacy. The Star Mage.

"If we are agreed, operations will commence in three minutes."

The players in each designated group and division were informed of their part by PM, raid-channel, and screaming spittle-spraying guild non-coms.

In short order the guild players were grouped up and in their assigned positions.

Valentine led the assault forces in the first wave. The disciplined ranks of guild players were a chaotic mix of banners, armor styles, weapons and races. A marked contrast to the regular formations of a professional militia, but just as deadly. It looked almost festive, a riot of colors and classes; tanks, Berserkers, Guardians, and Pugilists.

Clouds of arrows arced from the towers, humming through the sky like swarms of enraged bees diving down to sting the assault force.

The mages and wizards responded, activating spell-barriers, buff-skills, and control cantrips to reduce the damage. Healers topped-off the vanguard force's HP levels as soon as they dipped, and banished status-effects as soon as they manifested.

The stoic Undead infantry finally reacted to the players, dessicated faces twisted into Berserker masks of Rage, charging the guild force in a rolling tide of unstoppable fury that shattered the resolve of many.

The fear-inducing effect of the updated game-play, spread panic in many of the weaker willed players. Some stumbled and fell, tripping unfortunate mates, and the formations rippled momentarily weakened.

Demonstrating the advantage of Fearless in this situation, the Undead pushed forward relentlessly. If an arm was lost they used the remaining one, if they lost both they used their teeth, if they lost their legs they crawled forward. Only death and respwan stopped them.

"Stay in formation! Tighten up the frontline, keep your shields up!" shouted Valentine.

The Guardian's arm elongated the hand filled in and grew into a bowling ball sized flanged mace head. As he continued to shout orders and encouragement the Guardian used his weaponized limb like a wrecking ball, hammering at incoming groups of undead and scattering them to become fodder for the other players to finish off.

Valentine used another Skill, conjuring and covering everyone nearby by in a thin film of a gelatinous material, bouncing away some of the attack damage.

Many of the undead were under level 300, but the sheer numbers slowed the assault force's charge to a crawl.

A lucky attack by a ghoul staggered a player out of formation, isolating him. Dozens of ravenous ghouls reacted instantly, leaping on the unfortunate player. Screaming, he disappeared from sight under a pile writhing Undead. Moments later the ghouls dispersed leaving no sign of the player, not a scrap of flesh or fragment of bone.

The skeletons in the towers were still firing arrows and ballista non-stop, there was no lessening in the storm of projectiles.

"The towers are still shooting at us. What happened to our rogues?!" shouted a player in the tank force.

In the command post, set-up away from the combat, the three guild-masters were in continuous communication, conferencing and sharing information.

"Send in the second attack wave!" Warlord ordered, and a formation of players stationed at the shore moved up to support the first attack group.

"The rogues ran into a level 400 death knight. Sand-Storm estimates five more minutes to take it down, then they can clear the tower and move on to the others." Zhang-Shi reported.

"Shit. If there is a death knight in each tower, it will take at least an hour to get through. I recommend we commit every rogue-unit reserve we have to help with any other 400 level bosses that are in there."


"Wise, I agree"

"We've lost 5% of our attacking force. To reduce losses and save precious time by infiltrating just six towers instead of all twelve. With full healing, the tanks can absorb the damage from the remaining towers long enough to breach the fortification and overwhelm the defenders," Wan-Yi spoke solemnly.

"We should kill everything, leaving enemies at our backs is asking to get flanked-and-ganked," said Warlord.

"If we go about killing everything in the towers we will never make it in time to bring down the flag on this quest," said Wan Yi.

"Wan Yi has a valid point," said Zhang-Shi.

"Alright, let's do it your way. Guild-Master Zhang-Shi please send updated orders to the rogue units. I will update Valentine."

Warlord gazed out over the waiting formations to where the battle raged. The chances of completing the Quest before the timer went to zero were ticking away. The assault forces were fighting against time. If this battle was not resolved quickly, they would have to use Legacy skills to power through.