On the list of ‘Bad Ideas for Adventurers’, Tessa was sure that ‘sprint through a dungeon’ was somewhere in the top half or so. That it wasn’t higher was solely due to the fact that adventurers were capable of feats of such monumental stupidity that actions which were even vaguely reasonable, no matter how dangerous or ill conceived, simply couldn’t compete.
“There’s a fight up ahead,” she said over the group’s private chat channel.
The cave system of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave] followed the typical format of ‘hallways made of stone with the occasional room for big fights’ which games tended to favor. The walls sported a bit more set dressing that most, with veins of pulsing purple energy growing in number and wrapped around protrusions of increasing complexity as Tessa advanced.
“Be careful,” Alice said. “We don’t want whoever’s fighting to think we’re an ambush that’s racing in to join the monsters.”
“Good point,” Tess said. She slowed at the final corner and was about to call out when it occurred to her that there was nothing to suggest that both sides of the battle wouldn’t consider her an enemy the moment they saw her. It wasn’t impossible, or even improbably, to find two different groups of monsters fighting each other. As with many domestic squabbles though, the moment an outside presence appeared, the two sides were quite likely to put aside their differences and turn their collective wrath on the newcomers.
So stealth was called for.
Sneaking forward in armor wasn’t as difficult as she’d been led to believe. Unlike movie armor, the chain shirt she was wearing didn’t clank loudly as she walked, nor did the metal guards on her arms or legs.
Peeking around the corner she saw more or less what she’d expected to see. Several people were being murdered by a trio of monsters that looked like someone had glued scorpion limbs onto an earth worm and then rammed the head of an old man onto the front end of the worm. And the head was breathing fire.
“We have [Soul Blights],” Pillowcase said. “Three of them. And a party. Low level, I think. Move to assist?”
She didn’t turn to look at her team. Her attention was on the battle.
It wasn’t going badly. Or at least not as badly as Pillowcase had expected, but then she’d expected to see a massacre.
One member of the other team was down, but not dead. He was getting assistance from the party’s healer, while the three melee fighters each distracted one of the [Soul Blights] and the party’s primary spell caster rained down area effects.
“Go for it,” Alice said. “We’ve got your back and theirs.”
“Mark Prime!,” Pillowcase yelled the command so that the other party would have a chance to hear her declaration as the mystic symbol for ‘kill this one first’ formed over the leftmost [Soul Blight’s] head.
She considered calling out to the party to declare her intentions, but chose to stay focused on her target instead. If the other party was experienced, they’d quickly figure out what Tessa was up to and if they weren’t then she was going to have to carry the fight for them on her own anyways.
The [Soul Blight] she’d marked target her as Pillowcase charged in, but it wasn’t agile enough to avoid the charging thrust she rammed into it. The blow connected with all of her mass behind it and buried her sword up to its hilt in the center of its bulbous, squishy worm body. The [Soul Blight] wasn’t happy with being used as a pin cushion but it’s semi-amorphous anatomy also wasn’t terribly impeded by the hunk of metal lodged in its midsection.
Pillowcase drew back, dragging her sword out as she did so. The suction force which tried to hold the blade in place was considerable but the strength of even a low level [Clothwork] [Soul Knight] was even more so.
“[Rapid Shot]” Rip yelled as she unleashed a flurry of arrows into the [Soul Blight].
“[Casting spell: Lesser Torment]”, Matt said with a eagerness in his voice which both suggested he’d been dying to try out his new spell and that the worries which had plagued him on the trip to the dungeon had been cast aside once battle was before them.
Pillowcase paid that no mind, but Tessa filed it away for later. She was intimately familiar with the mental divide which might be lending Matt his courage, but embraced her own version of it and left Pillowcase free to act as instinct guided her.
That was a wise move as the monster in front of her was far from finished. Thanks to both the damage Pillowcase had inflicted, and the taunt effect on her strikes, the [Soul Blight] focused its attention solely on her and lashed out with a claw. Dodging wasn’t an option. The room was big enough but she wanted the enemies to stay in place.
That left blocking.
The shock of the claw strike was familiar. It felt right for a creature which outmassed her by three-to-one. More importantly though, it wasn’t sufficient to pierce her shield, or punish the arm she had the shield strapped to beyond the arm’s limits.
“Who are you?” Starchild, the nearest melee fighter from the other party, asked.
“Helpers,” Pillowcase said. The middle of a battle was not the place for conversation.
The [Soul Blight] reared back and spat a stream of flame which covered both Pillowcase and Starchild. Pillowcase used her shield to take the brunt of the attack but a fair bit of fire slipped through around the edges.
Burning was not a great thing for [Clothworks]. Pillowcase was more resistant to fire than her base materials would have been but it was still one of the attack forms which she was the weakest against.
“[Casting spell: Minor Cleansing]” Alice said, dousing the flames before they could spread over more of Pillowcase’s body.
Burning wasn’t pleasant, but Pillowcase wasn’t afraid of it. She hadn’t been made to be afraid of anything.
“[Casting spell: Lesser Spirit Drain],” she said, a growl of anticipation accompanying the words. This was what she craved. This was what she was built for. To be at the heart of a battle. To contest against a worthy foe.
Pillowcase centered her spell on the middle of the three to catch all of them in its effect. That locked in the attention of the one fighting her and the one on the far side of the battle. Only the one she’d targeted remained glued to the other party’s [Guardian] since he had a headstart on influencing it’s actions.
“Thanks,” Starchild said. “You showed up at a good time.”
Pillowcase parried a scorpion claw which was aimed at Starchild’s head and punished the [Soul Blight] for leaving an opening with a blow to the appendage that hit for critical damage.
The [Soul Blight] from the far side of the battle, crouched down and leapt over the one in the middle as the one nearest to Pillowcase belched fire again.
Pillowcase moved out of the path of the fire, blocking to mitigate the indirect splash of flame and then tumbling away as the leaping [Soul Blight] crashed down onto her position.
Rip and Matt unleashed another volley of attacks, which struck the first [Soul Blight] and left it shaking. Starchild capitalized on that and slammed her staff into the [Soul Blight’s] lowered head, shattering the inhuman visage like a watermelon. In the wake of Starchild’s swing, Pillowcase saw emerald fire scorching the air.
Pillowcase adjusted her assessment. Starchild wasn’t a typical melee fighter.
The [Soul Blight] was impeded by the loss of its head, but it apparently didn’t keep anything critical within it. Without a mouth to shape its fire, it belched flames everywhere and began lashing out with its claws.
Fire washed over Pillowcase again and she watched her health drop perilously. The [Lesser Spirit Drain] struggled against the ongoing damage and mitigated a fair amount of it but Pillowcase was still burning faster than her magics could repair.
A dozen steps away, Brick Spithouse, the other party’s [Guardian] was weathering the flames with only a tiny fraction of the damage Pillowcase was taking. He blocked an blow from the [Soul Blight] he had under control and threw attack after attack at it, most of which bounced harmlessly off the carapace of the creature’s limbs.
Spells and attacks slammed into all three monsters, but PIllowcase felt her vision narrowing to only the one before her.
It was a fatal error, and she knew it.
She had at least two of the creatures to deal with.
She had to stay alert on a broader level.
One of the [Soul Blights] stabbed her with its rear stinger.
Even apart from the poison it sent coursing through her, having a two foot long barb jammed into her chest was not pleasant.
“[Rapid Shot]” Rip called out, taking advantage of the momentary lack of mobility in the tail to blast it off the [Soul Blight’s] body.
“You ok?” Alice asked.
“Yes.” Pillowcase said, judging how quickly she was healing compared to the damage she’d taken so far.
“Good,” Alice said and began casting a healing spell on a member of the other party who who’d been slashed down to less than a quarter of their health.
Pillowcase’s own health wasn’t much better than that, but it didn’t trouble her. She had the monster’s attention and though they assaulted her with fire and claw, she was able to hold them off.
Second by second they pressed her, but after extinguishing the flames on herself, and shifting to a defensive footing, Pillowcase was able deflect enough incoming damage to allow the life she was stealing from them to begin repairing her wounds.
A fierce joy sang in her chest as she danced around the two horrors and held them bound to her will, daring them to do their worst, and laughing when they proved incapable of overwhelming her.
She’d turned her two playmates to face away from the other fighters and was just about back to being uninjured when the monsters went off script.
Together, the two creatures turned and vomited flame on the position where Rip and Matt were attacking from.
Pillowcase’s rage consumed her. Rip and Matt were supposed to be safe. She was doing her damn job correctly.
With a flurry of blow, provoking strike after provoking strike landed but nothing Pillowcase could do was sufficient to bring the monsters back to face her.
In desperation she leapt onto the back of the nearest one, trying to hurl herself in front of the flame stream but it was too late. In her party status display, she saw Rip and Matt’s health plummet to zero.
They hadn’t screamed.
There hadn’t been time.
With grim precision, Tessa hacked at the [Soul Blight’s] neck. Starchild had crushed its head but she was determined to cut it off.
The third [Soul Blight] escaped her notice. She was too focused on the one before her to care about it.
“I’m sorry!” Rip said. “We’ll be back in a second. We’re running to the [Heart Fire] now.”
She sounded panicked but not pained.
Pillowcase shook her head.
Rage wasn’t productive.
She’d injured the [Soul Blight] she was riding, but at some point she’d taken three more serious wounds and her own health was trending perilously low again.
Worse the third [Soul Blight] was menacing the other party’s healer.
Leaping from the back of the [Soul Blight] she was on, Pillowcase landed sword point first on the third monster. She’d claimed it as ‘hers’ and she wasn’t about to let it harm anyone else if she could.
It was a valiant gesture but foolish in its own way. This [Soul Blight] still had a functional stinger on its tail and used it freely, jabbing at Pillowcase repeatedly and forcing her to scramble off its back.
“Gather behind me,” Brick Spithouse said to his team.
Pillowcase didn’t have to wonder why for long.
The [Soul Blight] he’d been fighting switched its target away from him just as the other two had done with Pillowcase. The other party wasn’t caught quite as unprepared as Rip and Matt had been but only one of them, the healer, was behind Brick. Fortunately for them, the healer was the one the [Soul Blight] chose to attack and Brick was able to use his shield and armor to prevent a repeat of Matt and Rip’s fate.
Pillowcase was envious.
She didn’t even feel the stab wounds that stole the last sliver of her health.