All he heard was a dopplering scream behind him as Soonyoung jumped into the fray, released by the act of Decium committing other fighters against the party. He was the first to land, though Jeonghan was scarcely a second behind him with his crazy speed; from the corner of his eye he could watch as the tiger-haired monk not only roared “Dragon Saber!” loud enough to be heard on the other side of the city, but to land it improbably against the Swashbuckler somehow instead of the ground itself. It ripped the Swashbuckler over and up into the tornado of energy his kick caused, sending him flying over the city’s wall, only to de-rez into gore that rained potions, equipment and money over a few unlucky houses.
“It’s the Tiger of Namyangju!” a guy in the crowd shrieked. “It’s the Dragon Kicker! Watch out… run!”
Jihoon:: Oh sweet Jesus that’s sickening. I’m gonna hurl.
Seungkwan:: He did just kick a guy over the wall so hard he exploded, hyung…
Seungcheol saw the cringe set in on Jeonghan’s face as the Hwarang’s movement pattern rippled around him, stinging one of his most persistent attackers. “Snake Bites!” he called out in a somewhat-high voice as he curved his body around another blow, then took the energy from it to rapidly fling himself to Decium. He caught the mage just in time, slashing at him with a light sword-thrust angled up at his face. “Razor’s Edge!”
Though Seungcheol couldn’t see it, still nailed down and shedding damage, he heard Jisoo’s gentle step forward perfectly, so preternaturally attuned he was to it. They had practiced the timing of this so often…
Jisoo stabbed his short sword towards the ground, calmly incanting in a language Seungcheol still didn’t understand. The “Summon Follower – Golem!” came out perfectly though, and he felt the obdurate stone in his body fade just as the golem roared and leapt forward, taking his place as he rolled back and out of the fray.
The massive creature roared again, nailing all attention on him, and Jisoo’s dry, wintry little smile did not bode well for their opponents.
Fakerr, apparently pushed past his temper if not his endurance, surged back into the fight, heading right for the golem. “Logos!” he roared. “To me!”
Seungcheol:: Time to party, guys.
The shriek that came sounded odd, whistling through the air with a keening, warbling tone. A single arrow impacted in the middle of the ground, and the moment it touched an intricate seal array spread out from it, splitting off into four more that rotated counter-clockwise to the central array. “Trap Art: Retribution of the Five Gates!” he heard from Hansol’s direction. The first ranks from Logos stumbled into it, too used to coming when their boss bellowed, and fell right into the jaws of it. Black tendrils lashed from the ground as unaffiliated Adventurers stumbled backwards to get away from it, taking the Landers with them from sheer pressure if nothing else.
Across the circle, Decium’s eyebrows arched. “Interesting, it’s rare these days to get a Medium still focused on the non-healing arts. Genpo, Aries…” Two rake-thin Assassins materialised out of nowhere. “Take care of the bow user,” he ordered. “And bring me the bow. Healers, take care of Fakerr.”
There was a huge free-for-all in the midst of the circle as Fakerr went up against Soonyoung and the golem. Seungcheol was a little amazed; the Monk’s phenomenal gear and inherent brutality kept him going, moving much more quickly than the slower, more Strength-orientated dragons Soonyoung generally fought. Magic effects and skill auras howled and tore against each other, so loud that he missed it when the foremost rank of healers on Logos’s side simply collapsed and disappeared, sent back to the Cathedral by Minghao.
The sound of the golem exploding was louder still, causing Jisoo to fall back, and Soonyoung had to jump from the blow that nearly disembowelled him, but all Seungcheol did was stand up and grin with a bloody mouth as his reset times wore off, knowing what was coming.
“Get down!” he heard Wonwoo yelling to the Adventurers and Landers still standing in the circle. “Get down!”
Seungcheol rushed forward, rejuvenated for a second. His first step was alone, his second had a slim, small body on his side. “Covering!” he yelled into the massive confusion, and Angel’s Bane spun a blue dome around him which Jisoo and Jeonghan retreated behind.”
“Crimson Nova of the Demon Empress!” Jihoon roared, body enveloped by flames that sped him on as he ran, jumped, and fell like a bomb right in the midst of the fray. The earth around him shattered, shooting up lava through the cursed net Hansol had woven; the small sorcerer’s hands lifted, curled and slammed down again, and it was all over. The lava exploded as he manipulated it outwards, clinging to everything in sight like sticky fire and it burned, it burned.
“Cheol…” Jeonghan’s urgent voice called.
“It’s okay,” Jisoo soothed as Seungcheol concentrated on the barrier. “Watch.”
“Infinity Force!” Seungkwan’s voice came, and Wonwoo lit up like a supernova of gold.
The healer straightened, spun his staff around him and the charms on it rang once, audible even over the massive confusing and screaming. “Infinite Aurora Heal,” he incanted, spooling it out around the epicentre of the attack. The damage was fierce, but none of it reached the onlookers, it simply healed too much for the attack to stick.
Silence fell as Jihoon’s spell finally ended and the chaos fell to silence. Fakerr was down on the ground, hovering on fifteen HP. Decium was nowhere to be seen, and the lesser members of Logos only present in the form of their valuables and money scattered on the suddenly-whole circle of ground. Most of the Adventurers’ faces were filled with shock. The Landers, Seungcheol judged, looked as if they didn’t quite believe the hope that stared them in the face.
“Logos’s reign here is ended,” he said as he pulled himself straight, helping Jeonghan and Jisoo up too. He paused for a second as Hansol and Mingyu prowled from the circle, dragging two sleep-mazed assassins with them, before looking at the crowd of faces. “Titan’s Snap and Atelier Destiny lay claim to their assets immediately…”
He was interrupted by a groan from Fakerr, and paused just long enough for Jihoon to put the boot in. People often thought all to the sorcerer was rage and eating capacity; very few knew how much Soonyoung’s words yesterday had needled at the soft heart he kept locked up tight. “Shut the fuck up,” Jihoon gritted out, slamming his face into the ground over and over again. “You’re fucking disgusting, you piece of shit. If you can’t listen to your betters talk, then just go back to the Cathedral.”
Fakerr popped almost delicately for such a big man, and a grief-stricken wail from a young Lander woman acted like a fuse for the crowd. Conversation erupted, confusing Seungcheol at the sudden outburst of tears.
“No,” Jisoo said as he leant forward, shackling him by the wrist. “No, let them have this, they’ll find out soon enough about the money and valuables.”
Seungcheol felt silent and nodded, letting wiser heads prevail.
In the end, it was Mingyu that rescued the day; he cheerfully cooked up a feast in the main square, producing so much food from the hoarded ingredients that that it was a feast fit for kings. Adventurers and Landers alike queued up for the food, but left with so much more: money, tools, ingredients. The gear they kept; Jihoon practically threw the Greed Gauntlets and Five-toed Howl Boots in Soonyoung’s face, which led to the elder chasing ‘Little Grumpy Bear’ around the main room, trying to hug him in thanks.
Wonwoo was so tired from the effects of Seungkwan’s spell that he couldn’t move from bed; channelling that much healing had really taken it out of him, which led to Seungkwan practically waiting on him hand and foot, and Mingyu popping in every so often to try and heal him a little.
Of them all, Seungcheol felt the happiest when he saw Jun saunter into the building over an hour after the fight had ended. “I was right,” he said without much ado as he sank down at the table across from Seungcheol. “When I made my way past the gold and into the guild building itself, it was still business as normal. All our funds were still available. If we want to join up into a single larger guild, it’s possible. I put most of the items we didn’t want in the auction pile, so that’ll still come in.”
Seungcheol grinned. It had really surprised him when Jeonghan explained that Jun was doing an odd double-major in finance and sports medicine because he wanted to open his own series of clubs and that it was due to him that their guild’s finances had prospered so much. “Well done,” he said. “Sorry for keeping you out of the fight.”
Jun grinned broadly at him. “You kidding? Stealing that overblown Guild Hall Fakerr needed for his ego was one of the best pranks I could have pulled. Besides, it wasn’t as if this was Ohiro of the Thundering Prisms, you didn’t need four tanks in the fight.”
Jeonghan lifted one hand as Jihoon demolished his third bowl of rice and leant sideways to curl up over his lap like an insistent cat. “So that went through? I wasn’t sure if the rules would allow it.”
Jun nodded. “The second their assets got claimed I pulled it into Atelier Destiny’s account. It’ll be there waiting for us if we ever want to merge the guilds. It’s kind of filthy though, we’ll have to hire like fifty Maids to help us clean it.” He reached for a hotdog. “But something interesting showed up,” he mentioned idly. “The guild vendor was so happy I was throwing money at him he mentioned that his best buddy was looking for sales as well.”
Seungcheol frowned. “I’m still not used to all these sudden relationships the Landers have… who’s his best buddy?”
“The estate agent,” Jun said around a mouthful of food. “Turns out players with enough money can purchase buildings now, even on the Korean servers. I took the opportunity to take a walk with him whilst the party was on and make a few small investments, since you gave me access to your guild bank.”
Seungcheol boggled. “Buildings are for sale now?”
In response, Jun swallowed and treated them to another huge grin, upending a bag that rained keys down on the table. “Happy Whatever,” he intoned. “I got as many as I could with the money our guilds got from Logos; in fact, I think we own like a quarter of town now. I thought we could hire them out. It’ll be a steady stream of income whilst we go and rescue this Chan.”
Seungcheol broke out in laughter. It was the best, sneakiest trick he had seen anyone pull since the Cataclysm.
They rested for the rest of the day and the whole of the one next, making deals and turning away people that wanted to join their guilds and gearing up for the trip down to Busan. Wonwoo recovered, albeit slowly. Seungkwan was chained to a desk the whole day, creating contracts and stipulating arrangements and a thousand other things. The Chinese duo prowled through the city like hunting cats, wiping out the last few pockets of resistance whilst Soonyoung and Jihoon took it upon themselves to go and gather ingredients. Jeonghan and Jisoo were thick as thieves, politicking and meeting with other guild leaders and Seungcheol…
Seungcheol sat down in the small meeting room surrounded by the leaders of the Lander community, trying not to feel uncomfortable as they heaped thanks on their two guilds.
“Honestly, it’s been so difficult adjusting, and you guys are so much sturdier than us, it’s been difficult dealing with all the raw aggression. It’s not like Silla or one of the Kingdoms, we’re just a small free city,” the mayor mumbled. Around him, the guild leaders nodded in a chain. “If you hadn’t stepped in…”
“No, please don’t thank us,” Seungcheol muttered through his discomfort. “It happened now and the power should be more or less equal again. I’m sorry that it got so bad… you should get along better with the support guilds and supply guilds now, since they have to negotiate with you on space use… please stop mentioning it.”
One of the blacksmiths, a man with more muscle on his frame than Seungcheol had ever seen, gave him a firm nod. “You’re a good man, sonny,” he said. “With a good heart. We might not mention it, but we won’t forget it either. You heading on down to Busan then? Gonna do the same?”
Seungcheol wavered a hand back and forth. “We’ve got to rescue a friend from a situation down there, the last we heard he was in the Tide King’s Palace, and he’s not speaking to us.”
The men around the table looked at each other, faces growing slightly worried. “We can’t be much help there, the water races haven’t spoken to us in centuries, and that’s a nasty place. I can provide a letter though, over my seal, to inform the Busan Landers of what you did for us,” the mayor said. “We can get you cheaper prices, perhaps, and free lodgings. It’s not much…”
Seungcheol shook his head again. “It’s more than enough,” he said, sincerely happy about the offer. “Thank you, sir.”
On the other side of the table the Guilds’ accountant pinched his lips together. “Hold on a moment.” He stood and disappeared to the confusion of the men, before returning a few moments later with a small, delicate shell pendant. “This belonged to my great-grandmother,” he said, resting it in front of Seungcheol. “Perhaps it will aid you still in the watery depths, as it once aided her.” He hesitated, looking at the circle of grim faces. “Thank you. For rescuing my daughter from what that piece of trash wanted to do to her.”
Oh, Seungcheol thought queasily. Oh. Perhaps the one that started crying so much? “I’ll treasure it,” he said out loud, clenching it gently in his fist. “And we’ll use it well.”
That night, he handed it to the gentlest person that he knew, sunshine Seokmin, in the hope that it would have a better legacy going forward.