Tessa approached the shadow wrapped farmhouse but it was Pillowcase who first ventured inside.
“Centipedes, come out and play,” she sing-songed, keeping her sword low and her shield ready. Taunting the enemy without employing a specific skill to compel them to attack you wasn’t part of her creator’s design, which made Pillowcase even happier to do it.
Not that she intended to toss aside all of the knowledge she’d been constructed with. The tactical prowess she possessed was valuable no matter who had supplied it. The [Consortium of Pain] were deplorable monsters, but that didn’t change the value of the power they’d built into her. All that mattered was what she chose to do with it, and in her present circumstances that meant evaluating their environment to understand what her team was facing.
Neither Tessa nor Pillowcase were students of architecture. They couldn’t tell you which Earthly region’s wood working techniques had inspired the two story boxy edifice which lay open and deserted before them. To Pillowcase’s eyes it was a basic human dwelling. Large enough for an extended family and then some, which gave her a catalog of things she was likely to find inside.
Given the state of the house it was likely that a fair amount of the interior was destroyed or missing. The walls were made from thick slabs of some wood which the shadows painted an unremarkable black but even in the dim lighting they showed signs of abuse and long neglect. From the few jagged spikes of glass and shards of wood which remained, it looked as though there had once been windows and shutters but neither had held off whatever catastrophe had come to visit the farm.
Pillowcase noted the contrast with the state of the walls. Where no windows seemed to remain, the damage to the walls was less severe. The small holes in the walls looked to be the result of decay while the one big hole on the second floor suggested a singular creature had smashed a path inside. It had to be a single creature, Pillowcase reasoned, because if there’d been more than one able to make a hole as tall as a human man in a wall as thick as the width of her palm, she was reasonably sure the house would no longer be standing.
Tactically then, the most important question was “did the creature break in and leave once it had what it wanted, or did it make a lair of the farmhouse”?
“Do you think there’s more of them in there?” Matt asked. He held the pre-casting charge of an attack spell in his hands just like Alice had instructed.
The light from the arcane energies cast a rippling illumination inside the farmhouse’s kitchen but Pillowcase didn’t need it to see. Darkness was an encumbrance which could limit a warrior’s abilities so Pillowcase’s creators had given her eyes which weren’t limited by a need for light.
“Yes,” Pillowcase said, focusing her awareness on listening for the telltale signs of an approaching enemy. She’d never fought an invisible foe, but the threads of knowledge woven through her contained echoes of experience she could draw on. She knew what it was like to be stalked by something you couldn’t see, she knew how nocturnal creatures made use of shadows, and she knew how to punish those whose relied on stealth as a shield.
“Where are…?” Matt began to ask, but Pillowcase’s sword strike cut him off.
The [Chaos Centipede] was no bigger than the others, but a five foot long writhing worm of teeth and claws and eyes was jarring to find silently lurking on the wall over your head.
Having as many eyes as it did was a mistake though.
It gave Pillowcase so many vulnerable targets to strike at.
Matt raised his hands to cast the spell he was carrying but Pillowcase stopped him.
“Hold, wait for my mark,” she said and caught an attack from the centipede on the flimsy wooden shield she’d scavenged up.
The centipede dropped from the wall, gurgling a noise that was somewhere between a hiss and a bout of projectile vomiting. Pillowcase swept it away from her and Matt, casting it into the center of the room where it landed on the shattered remains of a large kitchen table.
Overhead, another pair of the centipedes woke and began scuttling across the high ceiling towards them.
Those were the threats for her team to deal with.
“Mark Prime”, she said casting a target over the nearest one and “Mark Secundus” to indicate a kill order for Matt. “[Casting spell: Lesser Spirit Drain]”
Ribbons of light lashed out drawing raw energy from the centipedes. The weak Provoke effect on the spell centered all of their attention on her and slowed them long enough that Matt was able to unleash his attack.
“[Casting spell: Lesser Spectral Wounds],” Matt said and unleashed a flare of pink light which pierced into the lead centipede.
The spell didn’t hit with any physical force but the convulsion it sent down the centipede’s body teamed up with gravity to send the creature plummeting onto the floor below.
Tessa wanted to hit it with a quick sword strike to make sure its attention stayed on her. She’d seen too many spellcasters be eaten by monsters, but Pillowcase knew better. The Provoke effect from the [Lesser Spirit Drain] wasn’t a long one but it was long enough to hold and she couldn’t afford to move out of position.
Damager dealers were always at risk in a fight, but even more important than protecting them was protecting the healers. A dead damage dealer could be revived. A dead healer meant the rest of the party would be joining them at the nearest chapel shortly.
As the first centipede rallied and lunged at her, Pillowcase stepped forward, into the attack and introduced the giant bug’s toothy maw to the broadside of her shield.
It crashed back to the ground, stunned for a moment, and providing a golden opportunity to attack. Pillowcase passed up her chance though, taking advantage of the free moment to switch her target indicators between the two centipedes she’d marked.
Matt understood the reason for the change and fired again, sending the third centipede crashing to the ground as well.
With the fight reduced to two dimensions rather than three, the tactical options seemed to condense to a more manageable set of choices. Pillowcase didn’t make that mistake either though.
“Rip, eyes up,” she said. “There’s a second floor. Expect more to come from above. Call out any that show up and engage them at will.”
“I can hear them moving already,” Rip said.
“Good. Let’s see what path they take to get to us,” Pillowcase said.
That was all the time they had for tactics. Even with the slow effects from the spells they’d been hit with, the Centipedes were still able to close the distance to Pillowcase from where they’d fallen.
Pillowcase was pushed onto her back foot, retreating a pace to make sure she was positioned between the centipedes and the rest of the party.
Unlike the earlier fight where she’d had plenty of room to move and dance around her foes, fighting inside the door to the farmhouse meant Pillowcase had to hold her ground. There was no exploiting the mindless hunger of the centipedes with tricky moves to leave them straining to attack when they were just out of range. Here she simply needed to withstand their assault.
It wasn’t easy, or especially pleasant. There were too many teeth and too many claws. For all her focus on blocking blows and parrying bites, many slipped through.
Tears in her cloth skin weren’t like tears through flesh though. There wasn’t the same burning sensation and the loss of her health didn’t come with human foibles like the weakness and mental fog which accompanies blood loss.
It still hurt though.
Pain can be a great motivator, and an important part of learning to fight. Those weren’t the only reasons the [Consortium of Pain] had designed a capacity to suffer into their constructs of course but they were the only reasons Pillowcase was willing to accept any longer.
[Casting spell: Lesser Spi…],” she began to say but was cut off when one on the centipedes dove below her shield to bite onto her knee.
She forced it off with a blow from the edge of her shield while parrying another bite from a second centipede.
“You’re at half,” Alice said. “Going to start refilling you. [Casting spell: Minor Blood Channel].”
Because she was safely in the back row, Alice’s spell went off unhindered and Pillowcase felt her pain subside as her wounds knit back together with mystically enhanced speed.
The third centipede chose that moment to leap over its nest mates and try for the juicy prize that was Pillowcase’s face. To its great detriment though, it was the one which Pillowcase had marked for primary fire and Matt’s next spell was ready.
The [Lesser Spectral Wounds] caught it full in its maw and exploded down the length of its entire wounded body.
On death, spells and elemental damage in general can have special added effects. In the game, it was simply a matter of providing a little extra pizazz to the event, but in person watching a five foot long centipede explode into a shower of pink sparks was a bit more exciting.
“YES!” Rip shouted, throwing a fist up in celebration.
Even Pillowcase felt renewed by the light show. She hadn’t had any doubts they would win of course. Doubts were a weakness. But her morale did feel a bit higher.
“Should we push in?” Alice asked.
It was a sound idea. Typical dungeon clearing strategy did call for pressing inwards faster than an alarm could be spread. Being able to engage foes who were unprepared was an unequaled tactical advantage.
Tessa held back.
“No, this is a good, defensible spot,” she said. “Let’s use it as a choke point and get them to funnel to us here.”
“Sounds good,” Alice said. “No point overextending.”
Pillowcase shook her head, clearing away the idea of rushing onwards. Where had that come from? In the game you could never take monsters or anything ‘unprepared’. Creatures were instantly ready for battle and would fight to the death no matter what kind of force was arrayed against them.
She was thinking like this was real.
Which it was now.
She missed a parry and had to hit the centipede on her left with a snap kick to force it back.
Wait, since when was kicking an option? Especially kicking with knock back?
It doesn’t matter, Tessa thought, we’ll figure it out later.
And that was the right idea.
With her focus restored, Pillowcase still suffered claw wounds and a couple of bites but she was able to squeeze in another [Lesser Spirit Drain] spell and easily kept the centipedes focused on her while Matt burned them to the ground.
“They’re coming out of the roof!” Rip said and Pillowcase heard her charging up an arrow.
“Pull back outside,” Pillowcase said as four more centipedes swarmed through the door on the far side of the room.
“We’ve got four coming from above too,” Alice said.
“Make that three,” Rip said, unleashing her [Charged Shot].
“Nope, still four,” Alice said as Rip’s shot damaged but did not instantly kill her target.
“Are you kidding?” Rip said, knocking another arrow.
“Regular shots to finish it off,” Pillowcase said and cast another [Lesser Spirit Drain]. “This is an endurance battle. They’re not strong enough to one shot us but they can whittle us down so spent your resources carefully.”
“Magic is good here,” Matt said, bringing another spell online as Pillowcase began marking targets.
She put primary fire on the one’s scuttling down the outside of the house, knowing she could keep the other four pinned in the kitchen if she simply remained in the doorway. Having eight focused on her wasn’t going to be thrilling but the [Minor Blood Channel] would probably be able to keep up with it. If not, she had her own reserves to draw on.
“We’ve got this right?” Rip asked, loosing a normal arrow which nonetheless managed to send the injured centipede crashing to the ground as a corpse.
Pillowcase considered saying yes, but before she could make a warning of being overconfident, the floor of the kitchen exploded.
Rising from the basement, a mass of long metal claws bound together by wrought iron cables and stitched with the sinews of many different creatures pulled itself forward and screamed in rage against its own existence and the existence of the world.
Pillowcase knew how it felt so she screamed right back.