Chapter 10:

Soloing a Boss Monster, the Stupid Way

Mylo and the Summoned Hero

They sauntered on, pausing to fight blood rabbits and the occasional giant centipede. The latter proved weak to fire damage, so Kasumi could finish one off on her own mana bar, which recharged nicely here in the ruins. For Mylo’s part, it was nice to walk through the mental stack of turns he’d gone up the tower at dawn for, for once.Bookmark here

He did find it strange though how they were geared. Mylo had a med kit on a messenger strap and his empty lunchbox for storage. Kasumi had no pack of any kind, but she kept picked up all the daggers and trinkets the monsters dropped. She had to be keeping them somewhere.Bookmark here

"Does everyone wear a lunchbox on their belt wherever they go?" Kasumi pointed to the beat up tin bumping against his hip. Bookmark here

Bent and warped out of shape, it didn’t do Mylo any fashion favors. Maybe if it still had some paint? But now the box was just bare bent sheet metal and a hinge.Bookmark here

"No."Bookmark here

"So it is weird. You’re a weird NPC."Bookmark here

"I guess, but I can’t compare to you."Bookmark here

"Okay, what am I doing that’s weird?"Bookmark here

"Well, normally if you’re going into a dungeon with someone, you’d link your party trackers. Makes keeping track of everyone’s position and health easier." When Kasumi stared at him in disbelief, he added, "They give you one free when you pass the Adventuring Bureau’s tests."Bookmark here

"You don’t do it through a menu?"Bookmark here

Mylo couldn’t help but picture a restaurant menu. He didn’t see the advantage of carrying around a big floppy piece of paper over a device that fit neatly in any pocket. Just think how inconvenient, scanning a page bigger than your face in the heat of battle to see who needed mana.Bookmark here

"No."Bookmark here

"Then show me yours. If it’s so importa…" Kasumi’s smile slipped from curious to smug. "Ohoho. Could it be that Mylo the Manaful failed the Bureau’s cunning tests?"Bookmark here

Mylo pulled a palm-sized gray disk from his pocket.Bookmark here

Kasumi stopped looking his way and wore a little scowl. Oh, so Mr. No Weapons is a qualified adventurer but not me?Bookmark here

Had Kasumi pressed the topic further, she would have discovered a regret she could poke proper fun at him for: Mylo knew no spells and no weapon handling. But a pair of familiar faces chose this moment to come strolling into view.Bookmark here

Kasumi took a long look at them. "Wait…I remember these two from when I arrived." She waved. "Yo! Vera! Oofbert!"Bookmark here

Veronica and Ulfberht spotted the person running up to meet them and shared a look. Kasumi seemed the slender fighter, slim and toned, and in appearances almost outmanlied the shotputter-build of the barbarian in the wolf pelts. Ulfberht smiled and gave a little wave, but Veronica folded her arms across her chest. "Ulfberht, do we know this guy?"Bookmark here

"Guy?" asked Kasumi.Bookmark here

"Nope. Don’t know him." Ulfberht’s voice rumbled like distant thunder. "Oh! Hey Mylo! Good Afternoon!"Bookmark here

"Him? Hey, who are you calling…"Bookmark here

Veronica loaded Mylo’s name with more venom than he’d heard in a decade. She rushed over and glowered in front of him. "I thought we had a deal."Bookmark here

Mylo tried to defuse the angry rogue who, to be fair, had a point. Kasumi and Ulfberht stood and watched for a moment.Bookmark here

"Oh, yeah, just ignore me!"Bookmark here

Ulfberht sheathed his sword and rumbled, "I’m not ignoring you."Bookmark here

"Oh. Right."Bookmark here

The barbarian sat down on a fallen pillar. "Sorry about Veronica. She’s had to deal with people who flaked out on commitments all her life. Now she comes here and sees a business partner apparently helping some other adventurer…well, she probably assumed you outbid us." Ulfberht patted the sun-soaked stone beside him, inviting Kasumi to sit.Bookmark here

"Oh." Kasumi watched Veronica back Mylo up against a wall. "She’s not going to hurt him, is she?"Bookmark here

"No, she just wants him to show he’s sorry."Bookmark here

Kasumi sat down and soon got bored watching the negotiations which she couldn’t really hear.Bookmark here

"Speaking of being sorry, I called you a guy earlier. I was wrong?"Bookmark here

"Finally." Kasumi leaned back on her elbows and drank in the moment. "Yep."Bookmark here

"Ah, sorry."Bookmark here

"Just please tell me there’s magic that can change what’s…" Kasumi cleared her throat. "Down there."Bookmark here

Ulfbert nodded. "Enduring transformations? Yeah, I’ve met a few practitioners. But you’ll need to go south to find them." He flapped a hand in the general direction of modern Edule. "Until 9 or 10 years ago, this place used to be ruled by a duke who disapproved of that sort of thing—said some people would change their face and body to get away with crimes."Bookmark here

He turned and offered a reassuring smile. "Don’t worry though. Now we have the Jagai, and the Jagai has us. Things are better, but Edule’s still a small, seasonal town."Bookmark here

Kasumi and Ulfberht had a pleasant chat while Mylo and Veronica slowly came to terms. This gave Couzinet time to move closer, scrambling onto a well preserved fragment of a viaduct. There she flattened against the hot sandstone and watched through her monocular.Bookmark here

Couzinet’s tail twitched. The rogue and the barbarian were supposed to be on the other side of the ruin, she had sold them and a dozen other adventures on a shoddy map to make sure they went the wrong way. Now she watched as the two unwanted members seemingly joined up, going with the hero and her guide.Bookmark here

"Noooo. Shoo. You’ll steal the kill."Bookmark here

Couzinet settled into watch, and wait for an opening.Bookmark here

Meanwhile, Kasumi fell a bit behind the others’ pace. She checked her inventory. Still had that Perk Cube, and now felt she knew enough to use it. It glowed in her hand. With a tap of her thumb, a blue holographic menu unfurled and presented a choice. Three bonuses, choose one.Bookmark here

Kasumi grinned. This is the part where I get into a proper build, right? No more flailing about with tiny clubs or hitting a hundred times to kill a single fasral, and I get to choose the flavor.Bookmark here

The first option improved movement speed a bit. It didn’t sound impressive, but Kasumi imagined a future where she could outrun opponents and arrows alike. How long though till she reached that threshold? The raw decimal didn’t win her over.Bookmark here

Is it too much to ask for something that’s useful now? I’m not having the hottest of starts here.Bookmark here

In the middle lay a buff to blunt weapon damage. Memory of the splintery club still fresh, she passed that option over.Bookmark here

That left her staring at a hexagonal icon of a wall crumbling under flame. It was called Ablation I. No change to the raw damage, but the bonus promised fire-element spells and weapons would now burn through armor and barriers.Bookmark here

Promising. Kasumi tapped the icon, and it appeared under her name and health bar. The cube folded up and dimmed into nothingness.Bookmark here

Mylo called back, "Hey, Pelgram, you coming? Boss room’s just ahead."Bookmark here

"Coming!" Kasumi ran to catch up, unaware of the dried corpse of a black beetle tumbling from her hand to join the dust of Old Edule.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The boss room this time was the grassy courtyard of a crumbling house. Mylo and Ulfberht peered through chinks in the high walls while Kasumi peered through a crack in the gate. Veronica, ever the prepared, used a periscope.Bookmark here

"All I see is a rodent," said Mylo.Bookmark here

There in the center of the boss room, alone in the boss room, was a lemming. It had orange fur with bold black patches on its head and back, and a little white fur around the whiskers. Mylo had seen these occasionally, but he didn’t go outside the town walls enough to have encountered one up close. Normally when an animal was promoted to boss monster status, it got bigger or different coloration. This looked like a normal lemming.Bookmark here

Veronica folded her periscope. "I think it is the rodent. A boss monster won’t tolerate another creature in its room."Bookmark here

In an accusative tone, she added, "If, of course, this is the boss room."Bookmark here

"It is, I’m sure. The densest plume was right here."Bookmark here

Mylo watched the lemming nibble a forget-me-not. It was really cute. And small. He couldn’t picture fighting it, or it fighting back. He’d always imagined the boss monsters would be huge and, you know, monstrous. Not adorable and fluffy.Bookmark here

Maybe this is what he got for never adventuring—getting registered with the Bureau had been Paul’s idea, anyways. True, Mylo had once admired the fighters in their scraped up armor and the casters for their glittering scepters, but he long ago traded that dream for another. What was the point of adventuring anyways? The thrill, sure, but Mylo and adrenaline had only a nodding acquaintance. And there was the hedonism. Adventurers drank too much, danced on tables, trashed the bar, and puked in the bushes—sometimes in that order.Bookmark here

The lemming was minding it’s own business. It didn’t deserve what was coming.Bookmark here

"Maybe we could take a lunch break? Oh, right." Mylo let the empty lunchbox fall back on its cord.Bookmark here

While Mylo tried to come up with a suggestion or an excuse or something, Kasumi got tired of waiting.Bookmark here

One player alone killing a boss monster was a rare feat in MMO games. The developers designed these encounters for large, coordinated parties. Whenever someone did manage to bring one down solo, it was considered a major coup. It was nearly cheating. Whoever pulled it off became infamous. Now, staring at that lemming, Kasumi saw her chance to join the ranks of the greats.Bookmark here

She swung the gate open and strode into the boss room.Bookmark here

Up on the viaduct, Couzinet sat up. She couldn’t see the boss for some reason, but now Kasumi had gone in alone, leaving the others still outside for the moment.Bookmark here

Allowing herself a fist pump, Couzinet whispered, "Chance!"Bookmark here

Couzinet sighted down the monocular. She cast Glacial Wall right across the doorway, sealing the aperture with clear cyan ice.Bookmark here

At the crack of setting ice, Veronica whipped around and Mylo jumped. Through the dark wall they could see Kasumi looking back at them. She was smiling.Bookmark here

"Shit! We got played." Veronica turned on Mylo. "Were you in on this?"Bookmark here

"No!" he said, pounding on the ice. "I thought she’d be careful after the fasral."Bookmark here

Inside the room, the lemming stopped chewing on its flower and looked at Kasumi. Black beady eyes on her, it stood there, watching.Bookmark here

"Aw, don’t worry, little fella." Kasumi aimed the flat of both palms at the furball. "You won’t feel a thing."Bookmark here

Small magmatic orbs arced out of her hands, sinking toward the lemming, which watched, seemingly entranced by the flame. It gave a shrill squeak and hopped. Kasumi’s projectiles sailed harmlessly under its claws and fizzled in the grass behind.Bookmark here

"Stop dodging." Kasumi fired again. This time the lemming rushed her.Bookmark here

Outside, Veronica was having none of this. "Ulfberht, boost me."Bookmark here

Ulfberht obliged, forming a stirrup with his hands. But Veronica ascended only to find fresh ice extending the wall several feet higher.Bookmark here

"Damn it." She dropped back down and eyed the ice in the doorway. "We break through then."Bookmark here

"Gonna take a while," Ulfberth said. They readied their weapons to attack the ice.Bookmark here

Mylo grabbed them both by the shoulder. "Better idea, here’s the plan...."Bookmark here

Inside, Kasumi was sweating and spamming. As soon as she had four mana she fired again, but it was no use. The lemming may have been only a foot long, may have weighed a few ounces, and only had eleven hitpoints, but the lemming had a honeybadger’s attitude and a mean kickflip. It waltzed around her shots.Bookmark here

Kasumi only needed one hit. The lemming kept landing scratches and bites, some of them critical. Kasumi’s health bar dwindled before her eyes.Bookmark here

"Mylo!" Kasumi called, concern cracking into her voice. "Where’s that mana?"Bookmark here

A blue thread shot through the ice. Mana back at max. A grim smile spread on Kasumi’s face. "Let’s see how you like proper spam, little furball!"Bookmark here

As Kasumi wasted his mana, Mylo kept his gyre capped and breath held. Now he had no recharge and a vanishing supply. Veronica and Ulfberht waited by the ice to rush through.Bookmark here

Mylo wouldn’t call what he was about to do trickery. He was just applying the fundamentals: a spell stores no mana beyond its own requirements, and sustained spells draw mana from their caster.Bookmark here

Mylo placed his hands against cold ice. He had to consider the fact that Kasumi might have placed it. The thought made his palms shake, but it wasn’t likely. So far she had acted on the spur of the moment. He had to trust that Kasumi hadn’t thought things through that far, and this wall of ice wasn’t hers.Bookmark here

Feeling his mana reservoir approach its halfway point, Mylo sent all he had left into the ice wall in a single pulse. The ice wall passed the buck to its caster. On the viaduct, Couzinet tipped over, stunned.Bookmark here

Then Mylo pulled at the wall’s mana, taking it to replenish his reservoir.Bookmark here

The ice vanished.Bookmark here

He, Veronica, and Ulfberht rushed inside. They found Kasumi on one knee and bloody around the ankles, keeping the lemming at bay with a barrage of flaming spheres. "Don’t worry," she panted. "I got it."Bookmark here

Mylo felt relief arrive, and then flee as the boss-lemming chose him as the weakest target.Bookmark here

"Mylo!" Ulfberht called, kneeling by Kasumi. "Med kit!"Bookmark here

Mylo obliged and tossed it, then took off with the lemming nipping at his heels.Bookmark here

I can do this. Just keep running. Just kite until Veronica or Kasumi lands a hit. An embarrassing plan, but decent.Bookmark here

Away and above on the old viaduct, Couzinet sat up and threw up. "What the heck was that?"Bookmark here

Her ears and then eyes swiveled back to the boss room. Utter chaos. The walls she’d put up were gone, the barbarian tended the hero’s wounds while the rogue laughed at the guide, who was running in terrified circles from something that looked like an orange smudge at this distance.Bookmark here

"Time out until I figure out where the boss is." She cast a grid of ice, locking Veronica into her own square, Kasumi and Ulfberht in another, and quite by accident trapping Mylo and the boss monster together in a ten foot square.Bookmark here

No where for him to run now. Mylo stared into beady black eyes which held no anger, only the void. It was still really cute.Bookmark here

The lemming leapt and Mylo held up the only shield he had. When he felt the thump and heard claws clink on metal, Mylo snapped the lunchbox shut. It rattled and bumped, but the lid held fast.Bookmark here

"Uh, I got it!" After a while the ice went away on its own.Bookmark here

The party, who had never gotten around to being partied according to the tracking module because no way was Veronica splitting loot with Kasumi, decided to go home. Enough madness for one day. They didn’t see Couzinet follow them for a short time, then slip away.Bookmark here

Passing back through the town gate, they were passed by a couple of cats loping out of the city with their fur standing on end.Bookmark here

Sleep knocked at Mylo’s door, asking if it could have its turn yet. With the sun dipping toward the horizon, he only had time to dump the lemming at the Adventuring Bureau and get something to eat before work. He stared into the face of oncoming regret.Bookmark here

At the Bureau, the lady behind the counter took the lunchbox to a containment area. Mylo and Kasumi watched through a reinforced window as a magical claw levered the tin’s top open.Bookmark here

Items and coins fountained out.Bookmark here

"Wait," Kasumi said. "It’s already dead? But you didn’t do anything!"Bookmark here

Mylo’s face went white. "I forgot to make air holes."Bookmark here

The party tracker confirmed the boss took no damage, aside from asphyxiation due to Mylo trapping it in a box. Over Kasumi’s objections, the Bureau credited him with the kill.Bookmark here

Marshall Eastman
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