Eager to get started on Tier 5, we began the mad search for answers on what lay below the waters of Serpent Lake in Zangarmarsh. Swimming through a series of pipes, and up into an underground cave protected by a pocket of air, we not only gained access to three dungeons, but our entry into the next tier of raids. Behind the waterfall that poured down the back of the cave revealed an elevator boss that claimed many lives with its frightening depth and propensity to hypnotize players into leaping to their death. For those patient enough to wait for the platform, however, it would transport us into an underwater lair hiding the Naga, an amphibious humanoid creature that swore their lives to Azshara. We'd navigate broken wooden bridges, scour caves and tunnels, and ultimately activate a bridge that rose out of the waters, draped with seaweed. This bridge would lead us to Azshara's reluctant handmaiden, a serpentine female known as Lady Vashj.
This was Serpentshrine Cavern.
Ater was now gaining assistance from Volitar in our quest to execute raid content. Volitar had been with us as one of the most qualified, reliable priests in Vanilla. He joined many others in the re-rolling marathon that accompanied The Burning Crusade's launch, starting from scratch with a Blood Elf Paladin, one he felt would bring a entirely new level of healing control to raid progression. Volitar had great leadership qualities, and stayed calm under duress, and Ater relied on him more and more to make calls and adjustments in Vent, while he stayed quiet and focused on tanking. Volitar assumed Blain's role with a dedicated professionalism that I was thankful for, and I hoped that our raid team remained equally thankful.
Breginna was still away with work, post Magtheridon, and so I continued to bring her Druid to raid progression, providing the ever-essential HoTs and battle rezzes that Druids contributed to PvE. Heading into Tier 5, I was unconcerned about Kerulak falling behind in gear; it was an eventuality, but not something I worried myself with in the short-term. What was more important, in my eyes, was the success of the 25-Man, and if it meant bringing another loyal player's Druid to the table, I never gave it a second thought.
What did give me pause, however, was the absence of my shaman in the healing make-up. As easy as the druid was to play in a healing role, the shaman still brought vital tools to our group, the most important of which was Bloodlust. Beyond that, a shaman's chain heal was extraordinarily powerful, and their totems brought crucial buffs like Windfury and Wrath of Air, buffing our melee and ranged casters, respectively. All of these abilities added up and could easily have made the difference between a 1% wipe and a boss kill. Without Kerulak, I needed a responsible, reliable shaman to put in that spot, to keep it warm, and to keep the totems planted firmly in the ground, while chain heals leapt across the raid like flashes of yellow lightning.
|Kerulak links loot over to Ekasra during a 10-Man raid,|
EkasraI reviewed the list of shamans we were taking, searching for the one most consistent with signups. A lot of them were coming and going, filling in whenever possible. One stood alone that had been present in signups, week-after-week, a younger up-and-coming player who had been with us since Vanilla. He provided the best chance of filling in for me on a consistent basis. Upon speaking to Ekasra, he confirmed my suspicions -- he wanted to do whatever it took to get into our 25-Man raids each and every week. Because of his late entry to the guild mid-way through Vanilla, he'd been unable to secure a foothold in the 40-Man. As a result, he spent most of the end of Vanilla on the sidelines, yearning for bigger, more exciting adventures. He yearned for inclusion. Ekasra wanted the chance to leave his mark, to make an impression with the officer core.
It was now time to give him that chance.
I took Ekasra aside and let him know I would be playing Breginna's character for several weeks while she was away on business. I let him in on the intent of this alleged selfless act: Continue to provide a Resto Druid for HoTs and battle rezzes, while keeping the character geared for her owner's return -- ensuring a seamless transition back into the roster. In doing this task for Breginna, I would be leaving a shaman spot open, and would need to rely on him to be present each and every week, even if the other shamans continued to use the sign-up sheet like a revolving door.
Ekasra was ecstatic.
It was as if I had just handed him a winning lottery ticket. He thanked me for the chance, swearing up-and-down that I would not be disappointed, that I could rely on him to take up this responsibility. I was happy to have someone as excited and passionate as he was. As long as he could channel that passion into his healing ability, both of us stood to benefit from the arrangement. Problem solved, time to begin work in the Cavern.
As with many of my early leadership decisions, problems had a tendency to appear solved...when they weren't.
|"The Lurker Below"|
Artwork by YeastSoldier
Dalans stood on the edge of the wooden ring, formed by a series of wooden planks laid out in a circular fashion, and tossed his fishing line into the water. Watching the bobber bounce suspiciously, he clicked it and drew up the line, hoping a for a bite.
"How long is this gonna take?" someone blurted out into Vent, frustrated at waiting.
Another person answered with a short, annoyed tone, "We've been in here for three weeks. I think you can wait a little longer."
At the dawn of Tier 5, preparing for yet-another-attempt on what was considered the easiest boss in SSC, The Lurker Below, we braced for another pull. In comparison to the nightmare we'd been through dealing with Tier 4, The Lurker Below's straightforwardness should have been a reprieve.
Yet here we were.
Dalans tossed his fishing line back into the pool.
"C'mon guys, we got it this time." said Volitar, a little less enthusiastic, a little more war-torn, and noticeably running low on patience. I could tell he was forcing himself to keep positive; it must have felt like a prison to him, jailed by the constant reminders all around that progression had come to a dead halt. Again. Ater sat silent in his position, weapon at the ready, shield in hand. He said nothing in Vent and typed nothing into raid chat, nothing into officer chat. Everyone has a breaking point. Had he reached his, I wondered? How much longer were we going to put up with mediocrity?
"Yeah, guyth. We got thith," replied Ekasra, his lisp thick and unmistakable in Vent. Chuckling followed, and I had to remind them to all to keep it down. Forever the babysitter. Common sense had long since gone out the window. The roster was filled with players who thought it was "no big deal" to pick on someone with a speech impediment. And I wondered at what point had I thrown in the towel. At what point had I made the decision that it was OK to allow that kind of behavior. How many raid wipes had gone by before I was so desperate to see any kind of progress that I scraped together any sort of bottom-feeders available.
What had we become?