Chapter 52:

Vol. 2, Ch. 27: Living on Hard Mode

The Integrity of the Super Club [Beta version]

Rover, Quintegrity, Lumpy, Adele, Graphite, Skater Girl, and a whole pack of other students arrived at the Southbound School Dungeon’s third floor. Stepping out of the elevator, they found themselves in an open chamber that was perfectly cubic and the size of the gymnasium. On the opposite side were giant double doors reaching up to the ceiling. They were dozens of times larger than the elevator doors, like the gateway into a royal city of legends and lore. Guarding those magnificent doors were the fiends Rover had described: three exact copies of Glove Alien Fight’s final boss in the original game, Skullface Crusherpants.Bookmark here

The AR brutes stood about three and a half metres tall—which was enormous compared to the players’ avatars—waiting at attention and standing shoulder-to-shoulder. They were muscular, sinewy humanoids wearing mystical, glistening armor that made them look like a trinity of gods. Their horned helmets symbolized their viciousness, and their skull masks amplified their devilishness. Each of them wielded a mighty flail with both hands—a huge spiked ball at the end of a chain rested on the ground in front of each of them.Bookmark here

Such a formidable sight stunned the players. Within seconds, everyone projected their AR avatars into the environment. They huddled close to the elevator where they all joined a single party to ensure everyone earned experience points for the defeated enemies and, more importantly, to prevent each other from being damaged by friendly fire.Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Lumpy snickered, staring at the daunting foes, “that’s Skullface, all right. Three of him.”Bookmark here

“He’s kinda cute!” Quintegrity giggled.Bookmark here

What the heck is wrong with you?!” Rover yelled at his girlfriend.Bookmark here

“Oh, but you’re much cuter, Rover.”Bookmark here

She squeezed his thigh. His testosterone floodgates burst open, but the titans of his decency managed to halt his body’s responses before his fellow students noticed.Bookmark here

Nervous murmurs and whispers flittered around as the more seasoned of the gamers recalled the horrors of defeating the original game’s most powerful enemy. Seeing the overall morale treading rocky terrain, Skater Girl stepped forward with her AR avatar.Bookmark here

“Well,” she sneered as she gripped her gaming smartphone, “standing around ain’t gonna help us. Let’s wreck these chodes!”Bookmark here

A huge magic circle appeared overhead, its interlacing patterns tracing through the air and obscuring the entire chamber’s ceiling. From its center emerged the great summoned beast and dragondog king, Baha Mutt. Students gasped and cheered as the giant, winged hybrid between a wolf and a prehistoric monster dove down straight for the three boss enemies.Bookmark here

The middle Skullface reacted first, swinging his mighty flail upward. The chain stretched far beyond its original length, and the spiked ball pummeled the incoming Baha Mutt in midair, knocking it off-course and into a tailspin.Bookmark here

“Now, everyone!” Rover hollered, feeling extra manly due to his girlfriend’s teasing. “Charge!!!”Bookmark here

Roaring shouts and battle cries echoed through the chamber as everyone rushed forth with their characters. Rover’s character was among the fastest in the group, heading the assault in front of the pack. On his smartphone, he opened his item inventory, scrolled through it, and lobbed a Mortar Kombat item at the three big foes, engulfing them in a flashy nebula of ricocheting explosions and colors.Bookmark here

Other players employed similar tactics, using long-range items and attacks. Everyone’s screens became messy with a plethora of AR effects, and it was soon apparent that the sheer chaos of onscreen activity would present its own problem. Getting lost amid the action was a very possible issue.Bookmark here

Rover fired round after round of his Incendiary Artillery Shots at the enemies, painting the AR environment with virtual flames. However, the three Skullfaces were now on the full offensive, swinging their long flails and calling forth some of the game’s most powerful magic with very little casting time required. Gaia Elemental spears erupted from the floor. Darkness Elemental tentacles popped in from nowhere. Light Elemental pillars dropped from the sky. And that was only the beginning, as Glove Alien Fight’s most nefarious villain had access to magic of every Elemental, not to mention mighty physical attacks. Already, some players were taking severe damage.Bookmark here

“Listen up!” Rover roared as he switched to using some Magic Bazooka missiles, which did more damage than the Infantry Glove Aliens. “This is just like a normal boss fight! If you die here, you won’t be able to participate in the battle again until it’s over, so don’t die!”Bookmark here

“Same goes for you,” Skater Girl chuckled, commanding her Baha Mutt to come to her. The giant dragondog king swooped in and picked up her avatar, giving her control of the winged beast. “All right, now it’s gettin’ real!”Bookmark here

She unleashed Baha Mutt’s laser beam breath at the enemies, managing to hit one of them. Despite Skullface’s size, he was very quick and nimble, and the three of them bounced around the battlefield, creating damaging shockwaves along the ground with every bounce.Bookmark here

One Skullface called forth a myriad of earthen spikes from the floor. They blasted ahead in a forward sequence like a stony snake slithering up from the underworld. Several players had their avatars caught in the attack and had their HP reduced to zero, taking them out of the battle.Bookmark here

“We’re losing people already!” Adele grunted as she buried her Chainsaw Glove Aliens into one of the bosses, dealing considerable (yet barely noticeable) damage. Staying within such close range to the enemy required quick dodges and timely maneuvers, or her character would be squashed flat by the bounce shockwaves or swinging flail.Bookmark here

“Not good,” Lumpy replied, scrolling through his inventory. He used a Potion Plus to heal, a Jack-Up to bolster his strength and defense, a Jack-Off because it was funny, and a Moosepack to get his character away from the enemy’s swirling Sad Elemental vortex that appeared right next to him. “We aren’t even close to taking out one of these guys yet, and people are already dying!”Bookmark here

Through the hubbub, Rover heard the signature hiss of the giant elevator doors, and he glanced to find more students had arrived. They all appeared to be confused and scared by the carnage, but this was no time for that.Bookmark here

“Don’t just stand there!” Rover yelled at them, switching to his Malignant Glove Aliens. “Join our party and get in here!”Bookmark here

Perhaps his snarling paired well with the excitement of the battle, eliciting responses of bravery and verve within the new arrivals. The students dashed from the elevator, quickly engaging the three rampaging Skullfaces with a new wave of energy blasts, bullets, throwing knives, paper airplanes with poison tips, and fireworks. In seconds, the insanity in the chamber doubled, dealing more damage to the enemies while also creating more chaotic disarray for the players—a true double-edged sword.Bookmark here

Rover’s and Lumpy’s characters took to the air with Goosepacks, joining Skater Girl’s Baha Mutt and several others above the clash. However, Rover doubted the usefulness of this tactic as it was hard to see his own avatar through the tempest of AR effects from where he stood.Bookmark here

“Crap!” he grunted, almost running into another player while he chased his goose-clad avatar. “I really should’ve brought my VR headset for this…”Bookmark here

He used the Hateful Carpet Bomb ability to drop explosive orbs over two of the bosses. A quick change in the enemies’ formation resulted in a miss for the attack, so Rover had to circle around for another go. Unfortunately, the Hateful Carpet Bomb had a long cooldown time before he could use it again, so he resorted to more Incendiary Artillery Shots in the meantime. When he’d amassed enough fire to make it impossible for the enemies to escape the flames, he swapped weapons again and repeated the Hateful Carpet Bomb, successfully hitting all three Skullfaces.Bookmark here

Even with the shouting of other players and cacophony of game noises, everyone could hear Rover’s wicked laughter.Bookmark here

“How the hell is Rover having so much fun?!” Graphite snarled as he circled one of the mighty foes, unloading some long-range disc attacks with his Innovayt Glove Aliens. His character was blasted with a Water Elemental spell called the Untitled Wave, but he was spared due to his weapons’ Elemental damage-reducing attribute.Bookmark here

Just then, an even deadlier attack struck Graphite: utterly abysmal sarcasm.Bookmark here

“Yeaaahhh…this is sooo boring, Graphite!” Olaf Thumdiggles droned as his character dodged Skullface’s flail.Bookmark here

“I’m having fun, too, dammit!” Graphite hollered.Bookmark here

“How many final bosses does it take for Graphite to have fun?” Daremont Radclaft called over the ruckus. “Triad-ing them up!”Bookmark here

AARRGH!!!” Graphite went blind with rage. “I’m gonna strangle you two!!!”Bookmark here

Another elevator full of students arrived, bringing the total party size to over fifty. This was the decisive turning point in the battle as a pack of players remained on the defensive as healers and supporters. Everyone else singled out one of the three bosses to reduce the enemies’ numbers first.Bookmark here

I see, Rover thought as he used his last Hateful Carpet Bomb available for the battle. I thought three final bosses this early in the School Dungeon was unfair, but seeing how easily they can be overwhelmed with this many players changes things. This dungeon is a true multiplayer experience on a massive, possibly limitless scale that requires us to build forces. Whoever wants to acquire a Legendary Cog will need to be more than just a great player…but an excellent team player, maybe even someone who can lead an army…Bookmark here

He switched to his Ancient Magus Glove Aliens to call forth a maelstrom of lightning strikes that got lost in the insane action of AR game effects.Bookmark here

If literally everyone in Thugwood teams up at once…can we actually stop a Mech Bot General??? Surely, even they gotta adhere to the game’s elements…right???Bookmark here

Quintegrity had remained by his side the entire time. Unbeknownst to him, she had been watching him, soaking him with her groovy positivity and practically reading his mind.Bookmark here

“You really play great with others, Rover!” she said, the sway of her hips matching the playful inflections of her voice. The surroundings, though, remained perilous and in disarray.Bookmark here

Rover kept his eyes on his soaring avatar, staying clear of the enemies’ spiked balls and conjured storms of death and doom.Bookmark here

“You think so?” he asked, trying to direct as much attention toward his girlfriend as possible without jeopardizing his gameplay.Bookmark here

“Of course. You’re coordinating very well with the others, and you’d make a fine army leader if they didn’t hate you so much! Gwa-ha-ha!”Bookmark here

“Ha! Not surprised you’d read my mind…but why’d you remind me that everyone hates me…?”Bookmark here

She simply laughed, which was all the answer Rover needed.Bookmark here

It took several more minutes, but the focused efforts of all the players defeated the first Skullface Crusherpants, greatly turning the tide of the battle. When yet another group of students arrived on the third floor, the remaining two bosses stood no chance, although many more players were defeated as a result of too much chaos and confusion. The floor and walls of the area glowed like cosmic murals from the dense population of people, adding to the magnificent display of in-game effects. Quintegrity pranced around, pumping everyone’s hearts and souls with the soundless boogie that poured from her spirit—a battle hymn that couldn’t be restrained by interfering noise—and she fueled the fighting bravado of the gamers while greatly contributing to the strange material’s luminescence.Bookmark here

At long last, the enemies fell. Roaring cheers and jubilance filled the large cubic chamber, and many of the students were surprised to see their levels had increased over nine hundred ninety-nine (and were confused by the mysterious new Legendary Collector ability they earned).Bookmark here

“Whew!” Lumpy trotted up to Rover with a grin, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “What a battle!”Bookmark here

“Yeah!” Rover high-fived his buddy. “That was the best co-op experience ever!”Bookmark here

He felt a hand on his shoulder from behind, and he turned to find a tall boy with cashew eyes and mustang mane hair.Bookmark here

“Rover Chork?” he asked.Bookmark here

Rover stared at the boy. “That’s me.”Bookmark here

The boy gave a thumbs-up. “That was some mighty fine playin’, man. You kicked butt.”Bookmark here

“Oh, uh, thank you.”Bookmark here

Some other students were also looking at Rover, and when he made eye contact with them, they just nodded. Two familiar arms wrapped around him, threatening to sever his spine with their delicately titanic embrace.Bookmark here

“See, babe?!” Quintegrity sang as she lifted her boyfriend off the glowing floor. “Not everyone wants your head on a pike!”Bookmark here

*Pop!* *C-r-rack!*Bookmark here

“Grrrgkk! Owww!!!”Bookmark here

A loud, deep hiss filled the chamber, putting a hold on everyone’s celebrating. Steam billowed from the enormous double doors on the opposite end. Giant gears bigger than city buses began to turn as the mechanical behemoth exhaled with its first signs of life.Bookmark here

With a thunderous groan, the doors slowly opened. It was a surreal scene to witness the movement of something so breathtakingly massive. Everyone crowded around, excited to see what lay on the other side.Bookmark here

“What the?” Rover pushed with the students as they all attempted to squeeze through the opening double doors at once. “What is this place about?”Bookmark here

It was a huge open area the size of the second floor. However, instead of an abstract city-like place, it was empty and flat. Only large pillars occupied the area, evenly spaced out.Bookmark here

“Hrrrm…” Adele uttered a concerned sound, then whispered to Rover, “This looks too much like the hundredth floor…”Bookmark here

“There’s a treasure chest!” a girl called out when her level-eleven Clairvoyant Radar pulsed on her phone screen. “Just one!”Bookmark here

At once, everybody stampeded forward, tripping over each other as they kept their eyes on their screens. Rover was quickly trampled by the rush and found himself falling forward.Bookmark here

Something caught his arm and pulled him up.Bookmark here

“I got you!” Quintegrity told him, lifting him off his feet by his armpits. “And I see the chest. This isn’t a match, so there aren’t any rules about physically helping you now!”Bookmark here

The hyper girl dashed forward, carrying Rover in her arms. He had his character use a Scooty-Go-Round, which other students were also using, but they didn’t have the advantage of being able to keep up with theirs. Wind whipped through his hair and the air stung his eyes. In seconds, they made it ahead of the pack. Students booed and cursed as the couple blazed by, but Rover could only laugh out loud.Bookmark here

She put him down in front of the chest as his character hopped off the little AR scooter. Other avatars bumbled around aimlessly as their players were too far away to accurately judge their actions. The taste of victory was sweet and salty as Rover commanded his avatar to pick the lock and pop the lid. However, the treasure itself wasn’t so tasty.Bookmark here

“Aw man,” he muttered as he read the onscreen message on his phone. “It’s just the key for the fourth floor.”Bookmark here

Similarly to when the previous floor key had been discovered, the entire third floor lit up with colorful splendor, indicating a new area had been unlocked. In the elevator, the fourth floor’s insignia displayed the AR button. All around the huge, empty area, more treasure chests suddenly spawned, but Rover stood no chance of nabbing one as he was so far away.Bookmark here

“This is what greed gets me,” he muttered.Bookmark here

When he met up with the others, they had a brief discussion.Bookmark here

“I found the fourth floor key,” he told them.Bookmark here

“So, the next floor is unlocked,” Adele said. “Well, what do you all wanna do? Keep going?”Bookmark here

With a soft chuckle, Rover replied, “Of course I wanna keep going. After that epic battle, why would I leave now?”Bookmark here

He looked at Quintegrity, who gave a happy, encouraging smile.Bookmark here

“Good answer,” Skater Girl said. “We’d better go now if we don’t want to miss anything. We just gotta be careful with what we say over our communicators…because…ya know.” She pointed up.Bookmark here

“I plan to finish this game as soon as possible,” Rover told them with a hardened face. “I can’t stop…can’t rest until it’s over…”Bookmark here

“You’re getting obsessive again,” Adele told him, looking around through her phone. There was nothing left to do on the third floor. “What? You’re gonna camp here or something?”Bookmark here

“That’s not a bad idea,” Rover replied quickly and nonchalantly.Bookmark here

“Yes, it is a bad idea!” Adele shot back.Bookmark here

Quintegrity cheered, running circles around them with her arms out like an airplane. “Live behind enemy lines! Sleep amongst the enemy! I’ll provide you with rations, amenities, and company for your perilous adventure.”Bookmark here

“Of course,” Rover said with a smug grin. “Until we clear the Southbound School Dungeon, I will live here twenty-four seven.”Bookmark here

“Oh, jeez,” Lumpy chuckled. “As long as you go to school, I suppose.”Bookmark here

“You’re frickin’ serious,” Graphite said, checking out the Cello Glove Aliens he’d acquired from a chest that didn’t eat him. “You ain’t gonna stop playing?”Bookmark here

Skater Girl nodded at Graphite. “Don’t you know by now, man? He’s a hardcore dude. How do you think he got Special Number 5 during the first round of AR matches?”Bookmark here

“Cheating,” Graphite muttered, pouting.Bookmark here

“And being a hardcore dude,” Lumpy added.Bookmark here

“That’s right,” Rover told them. “I’m going all in just like I did to get to level nine hundred ninety-nine!”Bookmark here

Adele rolled her eyes. “B-But…what should I tell Mom and Dad?”Bookmark here

“I dunno.”Bookmark here

“They’ll be mad, Big Bro!”Bookmark here

“Let ’em be.”Bookmark here

“Grr…you aren’t making this easy.”Bookmark here

Rover shared a laugh with Quintegrity.Bookmark here

“I never said it’d be easy,” he said to everyone, grinning. “From now on, I’m living on Hard Mode!”Bookmark here

“That’s kinky.”Bookmark here

“Shut up, Lumpy!”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

<<<STATUS>>>Bookmark here

Rover… Lvl 1,168Bookmark here

AthletaCom Points… 12Bookmark here

All Money… {T}337,705Bookmark here

Allowance… {T}12,705Bookmark here

Fundraiser… {T}324,000Bookmark here

Food Slip… {T}1,000Bookmark here

<<<EXPENSE GOALS>>>Bookmark here

Anti-Grav Skateboard… {T}499,999Bookmark here

<<<CURRENT EQUIPMENT>>>Bookmark here

Weapon… Ancient MagusBookmark here

Armor… Brutal SuitBookmark here

Acc. 1… Yakuza ToolsBookmark here

Acc. 2… Heist HoovesBookmark here

<<<PERIPHERALS>>>Bookmark here

<None>Bookmark here

<<<SPECIAL NUMBERS>>>Bookmark here

#1, #10Bookmark here

<<<LEGENDARY COGS>>>Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.