There was an upside to being covered in stinky bug guts Tessa decided. She might be horribly grossed out by the slime she was covered in, but in a world where violence was not only an answer but a requirement, she felt no emotional turmoil over the slaughter she was engaged in. In that sense, the [Chaos Centipedes] which were swarming from the abandoned farm house made the perfect foes.
“Oh god, is there a setting to disable my nose,” Rip asked as she knocked an arrow and paused to charge it with energy.
“Not in the normal interface,” Alice said. In her hands she held the [Minor Blood Channel] spell as it pulsed a steady stream of healing into Pillowcase’s body. “We’ve got two coming in from the east, keep an eye out.”
“Which way is east?” Matt asked. He had a spell ready but he was turned in the wrong direction to see the monsters which were wiggling forward under the cover of the [High Beyond]’s version of night.
“Over here,” Tessa said, rolling away from the trio of centipedes she’d been dancing around to pick up the two new arrivals. “Look at the bar at the top of your interface. It shows which direction you’re facing. Eventually you’ll know where you are on the map with just a glance but until then you’ll need to make a conscious effort to keep track.”
One of the centipedes sank its fangs into her leg, taking advantage of the opening Tessa’s instruction had provided. She stabbed in it return, and cursed for wasting the chance to spread her attacks around more.
The Tanks Tessa had worked with had always made the basic parts of their job look easy but the reality was far more complicated, with so many things to remember, and pay attention to, and react properly against that Tessa was left wondering what had ever possessed her to be roll a Tank character rather than her comfortable favorite, a Healer.
“Casting Spell: [Lesser Spirit Drain]”, she said the moment she was in range of the two [Chaos Centipedes].
Everything after that happened automatically, as though her words had set an array of machinery within her to work, one which she could only observe from a distance.
The first stage of the spell was to touch on the power which would fuel it. Tessa felt her Clothwork skin sing as a voice within her called to the magic and found it waiting, wrapped around her hands like a coil of lightning.
The voice that called for the magic become the lungs which drew in the power, flooding her with a formless, boundless energy. Even the tiny spell she’d cast came as a river far wider than she could hold within herself, but before she could let it pass through her and return to its source, she had to shape it. Give the ethereal sparks of creation both form and function, intent and purpose.
It all happened in the blink of an eye but Tessa felt herself burn like a kiln as whatever internal machine held the correct pattern forged the energy she’d drawn forth into the shape of the spell she needed.
Then, at last, there was the release.
It was gloriously complex, like pouring molten glass from her bare hands and having it drip into the shape of a perfect crystal goblet. Even as the one who’d lived inside those hands, who’d called the magic together, and done every bit of shaping to transform it from immaterial desire to solidified enchantment, even with being part of the entire process, Tessa still couldn’t comprehend exactly how she’d cast the spell she’d incanted.
It was as though someone else was the crafter who Tessa had set the task of weaving the magic she needed, and it bothered her that the metaphor might be quite literal.
Whether she shared the Clothwork body with someone, or something, else was a problem for when she and her new friends weren’t in danger of being devoured by giant blobs of hunger and teeth though.
The [Lesser Spirit Drain] spell pulsed out from her, passing harmlessly over those she considered allies, and lancing into those she’d deemed to be enemies.
The [Chaos Centipedes] affected by the spell faltered briefly in their rampage, their speed sapped by the spell and their attentions forcefully rerouted to focus on Tessa.
As spells went, it wasn’t that impressive. A small movement speed penalty and a reasonably strong Provoke effect made it as useful tool for a Tank who was looking to protect a team. Pillowcase’s melee attacks could inflict a similar Provoke effect but lacked the range of the spell, and using both in conjunction gave Tessa a shot at retaining control of the monsters even when her damage dealers stopped holding back.
Not that the latter seemed to be problem she’d have to deal with all too soon.
“Keep up your attacks,” Alice called out, as she scanned the area to the best of her ability given the spell she was maintaining.
“I’m almost out of magic points,” Matt said, holding a spell at the ready.
“These are just trash mobs,” Alice said. “Cast till your empty, then switch to basic attacks until you’ve got enough to drop a target in one round of casting.”
“What about me?” Rip asked as she fired another in a steady stream of arrows, killing one of the two new centipedes before it could reach Tessa.
“Just keep firing,” Alice said. “Hold your abilities though. We don’t want to pull hate off of Pillowcase and you’re our answer if something unexpected happens.”
Tessa felt a warm glow of gratitude fill her chest. Teaching new players wasn’t hard exactly, but it was nice to have someone else who was willing to help with it, and who had good advice to give.
“I’m going to see if I can mark these guys,” Tessa said.
Interacting with the menu system when she was sitting on the other side of the monitor had been too slow in general and so Tessa, like most players, had relied on the in-game macros to make executing certain functions faster. Marking targets in combat definitely fell into that category, though as a Healer she’d never been the one tasked with that since it was typically the Tanks responsibility to determine what was the highest priority to fight.
Mark First! She focused on one of the [Chaos Centipedes] and subvocalized the command. At first nothing happened and Tessa had to fight the urge to open the menu interface and search for the exact text of the first marker. It would tell her if she was using an inexact wording but the distraction would open more than enough gaps in her defenses for the bugs to eat her, and then rampage over the rest of the party.
Like a memory surfacing from the back of her mind, Tessa felt the right answer bubble up into her awareness.
Mark Prime! Pillowcase said, whispering the words as the thrill of battle danced down her arms and called her blade to life.
A [Chaos Centipede], not the one she’d marked, slithered past her parries and rammed a claw into her left leg as it’s many fanged mouth clomped onto her hip. The extra weight of the creature slowed Pillowcase’s dodging and allowed two others to inflict additional puncture wounds.
She fought back a laugh as Alice’s [Minor Blood Channel] replenished her health to full. The bugs wouldn’t have had a chance if she’d been alone. As it was she wished she could call for more. The small horde that had poured out of the farm house was almost an insult.
From where her team was stationed, Pillowcase heard a shout and felt the impact of Rip Shot’s ability enhanced arrow as it blasted the centipede away that was biting into Pillowcase’s hip.
“Save your abilities!” Alice repeated, more than a little frustration showing in her voice.
“Kill the one I marked,” Pillowcase said, seeing that neither Rip nor Matt were targeting the creature she’d indicated they should focus on.
“But it was chewing on her!” Rip said.
“I’ve got it covered,” Alice said. “More coming from the east. Keep your eyes open. Call them out when you see them.”
“Should I cast on those?” Matt asked as he fired off the spell he was holding at the three [Chaos Centipedes] which had slithered up from a different tunnel than the one the original pair had emerged from.
“No!” Alice couldn’t hold back the growl the followed. It seemed reasonable.
Not, perhaps, necessary. The boy would be eaten for his mistake, which would be a learning experience, and those were always valuable.
He’ll learn more if he gets a chance to keep practicing, Tessa thought.
“Casting Spell: [Lesser Spirit Drain],” Pillowcase said again, with an eye towards her own magic reserves. The spell was a more effective Provoke than her sword attacks, but it did draw on a limited resource, which was worth factoring into each of its uses.
In this case though, Pillowcase could see she had the reserves to spare. She went through the same internal transformation of magic into enchantment, but was less aware of it. That was proper. It was supposed to be a seamless, subconscious process so that the caster could stay focused on what was happening in the battle around them.
That’s why Matt’s having trouble, Tessa thought. All of his attacks are doing this to him. He’s getting too caught up in them.
“Don’t worry about this fight,” Pillowcase said. “Slow down. Do one thing, but do it well. Just kill the one I’ve marked.”
“I can kill those though!” Rip said, gesturing to the new arrivals. Despite that, she fired at the ones near Pillowcase but didn’t hit the one which had the marking icon hanging over it.”
“Don’t.” Alice was gritting her teeth loud enough that Pillowcase could heard it from a dozen meters away.
They need a softer touch than that, Tessa thought.
“Yes, you can kill them, you’re already strong enough for that,” Pillowcase said. “That’s not what we’re here to practice though. Practice doing it right on the easy stuff.”
“Ok,” Rip said.
The next shot took marked target in one of its main eyes. Pillowcase marked a second target and a third.
“I can’t get a shot at the marked one,” Matt said. Despite the solidity of his metal frame, Tessa could feel him shaking. He was too new. To the game? To life? To conflict? The fight was overwhelming him.
He could do it though. All it took was training. Anyone could weaponize themselves if honed properly. Tessa felt metal certainty spread through her, affirming that truth.
“If you think [Assist: Pillowcase] you’ll lock in on the target she selected,” Rip said, her voice calm, and supportive, and apparently exactly what Matt needed to hear. His shaking calmed.
“Good,” Pillowcase said. “We’ll move into the house once this wave is dead.”
Dancing around the remaining centipedes was amusing, or at least better than waiting around and not fighting. If they’d been tougher foes, it might have presented a modicum of challenge, but they weren’t, so the whole fight was really just a matter of waiting. The centipedes couldn’t kill Pillowcase, not with her defenses and the combined healing she and Alice brought to the table. If they’d been sapient foes, they might have worked that out, but they were bugs. Hungry murder machines. They had ever opportunity to run, to escape their fate, and none of them would take it because they were too greedy for a taste of Pillowcase’s Clothwork flesh.
The perfect enemies for the fledgling who were with her. Killing sapients could come later.
Tessa didn’t know where that thought had come from and it left her sicker than the centipedes ever could have.The last thing she expected was an answer to her question, but one rose in her mind anyways.
The [Consortium of Pain].
Alice had been right about the need to be careful in who they fought. The mass murder of any creature or people would come with a price none of them should ever be willing to pay.
That didn’t change the fact that there were people who would do horrible, unspeakable things to them.
Could she kill them though?
Of course she could. In self-defense. In the defense of others. In revenge, if it came to that. Could she find a better answer than that though?
I don’t know.
She ran her blade through the last of the [Chaos Centipedes] and imagined it being a human. The [Consortium of Pain] were inhuman, in action and biologically, but it wasn’t impossible that her party would stumble across humans who were just as bad. Tessa didn’t know how she would handle foes like that, but she decided one thing in that moment.
She would be the one to deal with them. Whatever else happened, she would not let that be a price that Rip, or Matt, or even Alice had to pay.
She was their Tank, so she would protect them.