"Yesterday's boss was a waste of time" said Aria, wiping the rat's blood from her daggers.
Sycorax glanced over, "I don't know" he said, "everyone else got some gear and we're almost at max level now."
Beside the buffalo, Roka nudged the rat with his foot. The creature lay by an overturned table, scattered with test for tubes and breakers of various spilled liquids, some of a particularly brought neon shade of colour. "It was pretty dumb" he admitted, "but it was still fun. I hadn’t fought a merman before until yesterday."
"The merman was fun" argued Exra, glancing down towards her newly acquired water boots that she had claimed as loot from the boss. Despite the objects rather unusual description, the water boots were not made of water, and did not leave Exra's feet feeling even slightly wet. Nevertheless she had got them as loot from the merman boss, therefore they were water boots, and only Roka bothered to find this at all unusual.
"In general" said the Canine, "a merman is defined by having the top half of a man and the bottom half of a fish. That thing we fought yesterday was the opposite."
"I remember" said Gunnar. "Technically, having the top half as a fish makes him a fish-man."
Pacing back and forth, Biggie added "BEAR STILL SMELLS OF FISH."
"At least you I got something from yesterday's boss" added Aria, unhappily. "I didn't get anything." Everyone knew that Aria had found this particular dungeon dull. Aside from the rat's, the secret laboratory that they had invaded offered the assassin very little to test her skills against. They had fought their way past a large number of animated globs of chemicals, each of which had bubbled and pulsed and been utterly immune to physical attack, requiring Exra and Sycorax to ignite them in a blaze of flame instead.
Looking over the rat as it lay dead on the floor; Gunnar commented "Well, tonight we do battle against one of the insane experiments of Mad Doctor Rawkjah, so you're bound to get something. Exra?"
The fire witch perked up. "According to the website, the boss drops daggers, a priest robe, a high level crossbow, and leather boots and gloves."
"Aye" said Gunnar, "there will be much rejoicing. So, remember our plan. Doctor Rawkjaw was trying to construct the perfect homunculus, a life forms composed of different animals and beasts. If we fail in our duty, he will surely unleash such fiends all across the..."
Roka pointed towards the far corner of the large laboratory, past the test tubes and flasks. "That's the boss, is it?" he asked. Sure enough, the boss stood just off to one side, easily within visual range of the guild. Roka remembered one of the earliest lessons he had learned when he had first met Gunnar and Exra - which the creature would not advance upon them, not until they engaged it in battle.
"Aye" said Gunnar, "and a foul mass of alchemical machinations it is. See how the flesh of their creatures is seemingly merged into one hideous abomination of nature?"
Roka sighed. "That boss," he pointed, "is just three rats tied together."
Gunnar glowered at one of the rats. The tall, reddish-red creature snarled, while another of its heads gurgled. "I suppose" he said. "Maybe the designers were feeling lazy." He turned his head back, towards the group. "Okay, let's do this. Everyone onto voice chat, please."
Almost immediately, five microphones activated. In that moment Roka could hear his companions once more, speaking clearly and audibly. "Still no Aria?" he asked.
"No" she replied, the assassin's reply coming up as text on the screen, "maybe next time."
"It doesn't matter" said Gunnar, "you can still hear us, and you know the tactics for this boss fight. Let's do it."
The group rushed across the room, charging the bellowing mass of rats. One of the creatures roared in eagerness for the coming battle, his wet fangs glinting. Another tried to flee, struggling against the sticky tape that held it to its larger brother's leg. Gunnar drove into the creature first, his sturdy shield crashing against its mottled red hide.
Immediately the dog was on paw, readying a shining healing spell. As he did, he said "How about a run-down how we're doing. Exra?"
The fire witch began a volley of fire, raining shots of blistering heat down on the rampaging rat horde-creature. "We are all close to maximum level" she said, "so, in theory, we should be able to stand a chance against the secret dungeon once our gear is good enough."
The buffalo nodded, smashing his hammer against one of the creature's heads. It looked dazed, but the other heads just looked mildly annoyed. "And the secret dungeon is still saved?"
Sycorax moved quicker, sharp bolts of deathly black energy searing from his skeletal fingertips. "The entrance vanished without a trace. But with the soul stone set to it, I can teleport all of us right inside the dungeon at any time."
"And how are we doing in terms of getting past the butlers?" Gunnar asked, turning to look towards Biggie.
The rock golem remained silent for a moment. He did not move, did not even seem to open fire with his powerful bow. Then, after a few moments, his text appeared as he answered, "ME AN SYC WENT THERE LAST NIGHT AND GOT THEM DOWN TO HALF THEY'RE HEALTH BEFORE WE DIED."
The warlock nodded. "It's 'their', but Biggie is right. With better gear, we should stand a chance."
With a grunt, Roka said "Guys, use your mics please, we are in the middle of a fight!"
There was a hiss of static, and then Biggie's accented voice added "Ah, sorry."
Nodding, Gunnar turned to Aria. "You didn't get the gear you needed tonight. What does everyone need?"
"Fighting!" came Aria's reply in text, as she struck her daggers again and again into whichever of the rat's backs was closest too her. With three targets to choose from, the assassin seemed spoiled for choice.
"Ah, sorry" replied Gunnar as the creature lashed out with four of its six arms. "Exra?"
"Aria needs two items, the Knives of Woe and the Belt of Intermescent Fortitude." The fire witch seemed to think for a moment, and then asked "Is 'intermescent' even a word?"
"Probably not" said Roka, "but it looks like we should be able to get decent gear in a week or so."
The warlock looked around. "It's still going to be really difficult" he said, "especially with only six of us."
Biggie nodded, unleashing another volley of shots. His bear ripped at the rat, the flailing monstrosity barely even noticing the wild animal as it chewed on one of the constructs legs. "Why not get some more of us?" asked Biggie through a crackle of static.
Exra let fly with another scorch of flame. "I've been trying to keep recruitment up. But, well, there's a bit of a problem with that."
"The name?" asked Roka.
"The reputation" she answered. "Oh, and can we get more dots on the boss, Syc?"
Gunnar blinked. "We have a reputation?"
"It seems" said Sycorax as he finished releasing a curse upon the rampaging boss, slowly chipping away at the gargantuan creature's massive pool of health, "that Brakka has been telling people about where we got our gold from."
"They think we're thieves" explained Exra. "He's been telling his whole guild that we hijacked his entire guild bank and stole all their money."
Sycorax shrugged. "Which, to be fair, we kinda did."
Exra sighed. "Nobody wants to join the guild."
The buffalo looked down. For a moment his beard seemed to bristle. Then, with a resounding crack, the mass of rats ploughed into the warrior. He stumbled, staggering in a surpassed attempt to keep his footing. The creature's biggest face bellowed, snarling globs of spittle across the buffalo's wiry beard. Pressing his teeth tightly, Gunnar swung his hammer in an upward arc, knocking the creature square on the chin. "Okay" he said, "Doesn't matter. It's always been us, all these months it's been we six. We can do this. We can handle it."
Roka glanced a look back at Exra, noticing that the fire witch was returning his gaze. Neither of them was too sure about that.
Gunnar pushed his advantage, pressing in to corner the rat mass against the wall of the laboratory. "What's the update on Brakka? Are his group still attacking?" he asked.
"I got jumped by a pair three days age" said Sycorax, hurrying to keep up with the buffalo, "killed one but the other two got me. I didn't lose anything though; I had already put everything in the bank."
Biggie hung back, the great bear rushing past him to lunge hungrily after the boss. "Same for me" he said through a garbled of static. "Damn it, where is my poison arrow button..."
Gunnar nodded. "Good. Keep that up, everyone. Make sure all important items are stored in the bank as soon as you get them. Gold, potions, magic rings, the lot. We want to..."
"Vomit attack in five seconds" said Exra.
Gunnar blinked. "Wait, what?" he managed to ask, just before he regretted it. The buffalo struggled to raise his shield, barely in time to bring it up as a barricade between himself and the noxious, green fluid that gushed from one of the rat’s mouths. "Jesus Christ!" he screamed, as the creature's second and third heads also joined in on gushing fountains of vile green gunk over him. "Why is it even doing this? Why is this even a thing?"
* * *
"I don't think Gunnar's ever been so happy to kill something" said Roka.
Glancing over his shoulder, Sycorax looked back at the smouldering remains of the boss. "It was close for a few moments" he said, "but we handled it. Who has all levelled up?"
The dog raised his paw. "Forty-two now" he said. "It's amazing; we're almost at max level now."
Exra slid her share of the boss's gold into her pocket. "Gunnar, you can stop kicking it now."
The warrior paused for a moment. Then he shook his head, and kicked the rat’s body again. "Vomit attack! I'll show you!"
In his thick accent, Biggie pointed out "It is already dead, friend. Let us maybe go back to guild hall and put gold in the bank?"
Aria's reply came in text again, her microphone channel remaining silent. "These daggers are pretty good" she said, "give me a plus four on my attack speed."
Exra nodded. "Great! Aria, you're the highest level of the lot of us, at fifty-two. I'd like you to measure your maximum damage per second with those daggers, let me know what..." A sharp meow cut through Exra's audio channel. She paused. "Sorry" she said, "Mister Tobler wants fed."
"Wait" said Biggie, "Mister who?"
"Tobler" said Exra.
Gunnar ceased his abuse of the defeated boss just long enough to ask "Is that a different cat? You had another one before."
Exra replied "I have several." Then she added, almost hopefully "Do you want to talk to him?"
For a moment, everyone was quiet.
Then, hesitantly, Roka said "Sure. Yeah, okay."
"Great" said Exra, a ring in her voice sounding genuinely happy. "Let me just get him!"
The rest of the group glanced back and forth between each other, uncertainly.
There was a ruffle along Exra's microphone channel. Then she said "Say hello, Mister Tobler." There was silence. After a few moments, she said "Come on Mister Tobler, don't be shy." There was another ruffle, a sound which Roka imagined to sound just like an unimpressed cat brushing against a microphone.
Finally, Exra said "Mister Tobler doesn't want to talk right now."
Nodding quickly, Sycorax said "Right, lovely" with a tone that showed utterly no interest in cat antics. "I'm going to head back."
While the warlock waved his paws deftly through the air, tracing the outline of his teleportation spell through the air, Roka walked over towards the fire witch. "We're almost at the maximum level" he said, confidently.
She smiled. "You'll hit level fifty in no time" she said. "You've come a long way, you know."
The cleric thought for a moment. "I guess I have" he said. "I guess we all have." He thought for a moment about how close they had all become. Thinking back, he had held so little idea of what being a part of a guild would involve. But this, he knew, was what it all came down to. Friendship. He smiled to her. "Do you think we can do this?"
Exra smiled. "I do" she said. "I really do think so."
A noise broke through the audio channel. "Erm, guys" came a voice. Roka recognised it as Sycorax. "Gunnar, can you come to the guild house? There's a problem."
Something about the youngster's voice made Roka pause. The youngest of the crew, Sycorax always seemed to be the most laid back when he spoke through his microphone, his young voice working hard to portray a laid-back, relaxed tone. The boy, thought Roka, always painted the illusion of being the coolest that he could be. Now, though, that mask was gone. The warlock's voice was edged with tension, a sense of nervous and barely-restrained panic.
"What's wrong?" said Gunnar, quickly.
"It's the guild bank" said Sycorax. "It's empty. All our gold is gone!"
* * *
The six stood around the small safe. The metal box sat in the corner of the guild hall, its door hanging limply open. Inside it was dark, empty and void-like.
Roka peered inside. Despite the illusion of the bank's small size, it was capable of holding a plethora of items. Only a day before it had held almost fifty potions of Sycorax's brewing, hundreds of small rings and necklaces that the priest had constructed, and the spare ingredients for thousands of meals. Worse, it was also barren of gold.
The cleric leaned back and sighed. "We've been cleaned out" he said, sadly.
Gunnar slumped. The warrior seemed visibly worn down beneath the weight of it all. He seemed to sag, sliding down until he collapsed onto the floorboards in a sitting position.
Roka turned to Exra. "What happened?"
"This shouldn't be possible" she said. "People can't just steal from a guild's bank, it's not possible."
"Who has access to the bank?" asked the Canine. "Could it be Brakka?"
Shaking her head, the fire witch explained. "It's not an actual physical bank, Roka; it's just a piece of code. It's bound to the guild account. Only members of the guild can access it, not outsiders."
"HOW WE KNOW THAT???" snapped Biggie. The golem had been pacing since the group had arrived at the guild house. Now he seemed ready to explode with anger.
"What she means" said Aria, much more calmly, "is that there is no way that Brakka could do it. The guild house itself is instanced, like the dungeons. People who are not part of the guild cannot access it, just as people who are not part of an adventuring party cannot enter the dungeons. Even if Brakka came with a whole army, he could not break into the house and into the bank because they do not, to anyone outside of the guild, strictly exist."
The rock golem looked as if he wanted to punch someone.
A voice rang from opposite Biggie. "Actually" said the warlock, "he might not have had to do that. He might have just hacked it."
Roka glanced toward Sycorax. "Is that possible?" he asked.
Exra interjected, "In theory. Yes, it's possible."
"I knew it!" snapped Gunnar. The buffalo's thick, heavy voice sounded sharp, pained. "That bastard! That utter, utter bastard!"
Inhaling heavily, Exra continued. "I don't think that Brakka himself could have, he doesn't seem the type. But he could have hired someone, or have friends who might..."
With a resounding crash, the warrior smashed his plated fist against the floor.
Sycorax glanced downwards, looking nervously at the bank. "Is there anything we can do?" he asked.
"I could put in a complaint to one of the GMs" answered Exra, but the tone of her voice was already ringing with defeat, "but I'm not sure it would do any good."
"My jewellery" murmured Roka, his throat feeling suddenly full. "All the jewellery I'd made was in there. And I'd been getting better at it, too."
"I'm going to kill him" growled Gunnar. "I'm going to utterly kill that bastard."