Tension. Pillowcase felt it resonating inside her like a harp string being strummed by a buzzsaw.
“They haven’t seen us yet,” Rip whispered.
Pillowcase grinned. The whisper was silly. They were speaking telepathically. The [Soul Blights] weren’t going to overhear them no matter how “loudly” they spoke.
“Call when in position,” she said. Maneuvering took care. The three monsters had healed back up to pristine shape, but they were still on the alert. Fortunately the team’s plans had been right.
The [Soul Blights] weren’t sapient. They didn’t think, or plan. Not at the level a human did at any rate.
Tessa snorted. Thinking like a human wasn’t setting a high bar given some of the people she’d met.
That didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous though. The treatise she’d been encoded with gave her a detailed breakdown of their capacities and manufacture.
Their manufacture? Wait, what? Tessa paused behind one of the half height pillars which dotted the chamber where the [Soul Blights] prowled. Rip and Matt were still moving.
She could stop them.
Share what she knew with the rest of the team and allow them to digest it.
But how the hell do I know that the [Soul Blights] are manufactured? She didn’t have a good answer for herself. Or for the question, why did I only remember that now?
She could see the datasheet being spun into a thread of crystal and light. She could feel it being woven into her head. Far before she was even fully conscious.
Seriously, what the hell is this?
Pillowcase shook her head.
Now was not the time to be lost in memory.
Are they even real? Tessa wanted to know. Probably. She probably wanted to know? Or not. Whatever was rattling around in her head, it felt like it went beyond simple imagination and the possibilities there were terrifying the more she looked at them.
“We’re set,” Matt said.
Pillowcase couldn’t see them from her vantage point. That was fine. She knew where they would be. She knew what she had to do.
“I have the shot lined up,” Rip said. “Waiting to see if they separate like you said.”
“They will,” Alice said. “They’re not roaming in sync.”
“Call a warning if they spot you,” Pillowcase said.
It would take between twenty seconds and three minutes for the [Soul Blights’] attention to diverge to the point where Rip could safely try to pull them. Pillowcase…
Tessa could use that time to put her head together.
How am I remembering Pillowcase’s life? How am I remembering things she can’t possibly remember?
Memory was information. Pillowcase had been made with all requisite information included. Every fact and thought had been carefully stitched in.
Why would anyone stitch in memories of memories being stitched into your head though? How would that help you be a better [Soul Knight]?
Pillowcase didn’t have an answer for that.
“None of them are looking at the others,” Rip said. “I’m taking the shot.”
There was no skill invocation, or spell casting. The idea with pulling was to draw the attention of all the target you wished to fight, so the shot from Rip’s bow came down to purely her skill.
Pillowcase waited, her fingers leaving dents on the sword handle, as the first of the [Soul Blights] screamed and thundered towards Rip’s position.
“The others are alerted too,” Alice called. “They’re searching for attackers.”
Not a perfect result, but likely the best pull available given the [Soul Blights] status as an integrated combat unit.
These things were made to fight together? Are you kidding me? Why didn’t you share this earlier?
Pillowcase discarded the question.
The [Soul Blight] rambled by on the other side of the pillar and she sprang out, plunging her sword into its unprotected flank.
A solid hit.
Good provoke effect.
The [Soul Blight] checked its charge and swung its momentum into a slashing strike Pillowcase caught on her shield.
On its own, the strike could have punctured better steel than cheap metal Pillowcase’s shield was crafted from. At least on a direct hit.
Deflecting the [Soul Blight’s] claw only required catching it at the right angle though, and recoiling for a fraction of a second to spread the force of the impact out.
Pillowcase stabbed the [Soul Blight] again, and felt the familiar glee of battle rising inside.
Chill, Tess said and brought the sword out to parry the attack from the other claw she was exposed to.
Pillowcase stepped back to buy a fraction of a second of breathing room and cast an evaluating glance at the other two [Soul Blights].
They were going to join the fight shortly. For the moment, they were stationary, probably expecting another attack from the other party.
“Pour it on,” Pillowcase said. They had a short time window where the only adversary they had to worry about was the one she had under control.
“[Casting Spell: Lesser Torment]”
Rip and Matt joined the fray in ernest and Pillowcase smiled. They’d waited for her to secure the [Soul Blights] attention. That was to be expected of Matt Painting. He was a Metal Mechanoid, an construct like her, but Rip was a native of this world. Her discipline was exceptional according to the data the [Consortium of Pain] had supplied.
You’re waking up, aren’t you?
Tessa parried another claw strike and felt the impact ring through her arm. If it had been her human arm she guessed she would have fractured her wrist but Clothworks were made just a bit sturdier than that.
Without thinking, she swept her shield out, catching the other claw and clearing it away so they she could slash the head atop the worm body as it drew in a fiery breath.
No. Not you. Me. I’m waking up.
Pillowcase launched herself backwards, avoiding the sputtering stream of fire from the [Soul Blight’s] interrupted breath attack.
As she rose she saw a twitch in the [Soul Blight’s] legs that she recognized.
The plan was that she would swivel around and block for the party but in the moment she was struck with a better idea.
Stepping forward, Pillowcase pulled her shield in close and thrust her sword up through head which was about to spew fire on her team.
The blade passed point first through the underside creature’s jaw and exited out the top of its mostly vestigial head.
The handle grew warm to her touch as the fire the [Soul Blight] attempt to spit out was trapped inside its mouth.
A design weakness.
The creatures relied on magic to provide the ingredients but the fire was mostly a mundane chemical reaction from combining two reactive substances.
The [Soul Blight] tried to scream as it burned from within, but Pillowcase’s sword held its mouth pinned shut.
As the flames spread within the creature, Pillowcase saw the tendrils of Matt’s spell, [Lesser Torment] weaving around the destruction and encouraging its growth. In theory, the damage was illusionary but the illusions which could cause unavoidable, debilitating pain, seemed real enough to Pillowcase.
The [Soul Blight] was eventually saved from additional burning pain when its head simply exploded. Pillowcase wasn’t fooled that an injury like that was a serious one though. She’d seen Starchild literally smash a [Soul Blight] head like an overripe melon. The creature’s cognitive function, what feeble ones which existed, were distributed throughout its body and were largely tied up in its Fight or FIGHT response.
She parried and blocked another set of blows, as the other two [Soul Blights] finally turned to join the fray. They scuttled in, heading towards Pillowcase, who had made sure to stay directly in their line of sight.
That wasn’t sure enough though.
“[Casting Spell: Lesser Spirit Drain].” She centered the spell on the nearest [Soul Blight], confident that it would catch them both.
“Mark Prime!” she called, indicating the damaged monster. “Focus this one down. I’ve got the other two.”
“And I’ve got you,” Alice said.
Tessa felt a distant pain as the undirected flames from the damaged [Soul Blight] splatted her. Alice let a bit of damage accumulate before she cast her healing spells, leaving room for Pillowcase’s own healing abilities to restore her and cement the monster’s attention where it belonged.
Fighting three of the aberrations at once felt glorious once again. As the battle joy rose though it met with a wave calm detachment.
Yes, this was where she belonged.
A battle like this was what she had been designed for. It was her original purpose. Why she had been given form and substance.
But none of that mattered.
Pillowcase, or Tessa, or whoever or whatever she was, her purpose wasn’t what someone else said.
She felt exhilaration at strength she’d never had before.
She felt pride at being able to protect people who were kind to her.
It was even pretty nice to hurt the damn things that had hurt and killed her once already. That wasn’t a great thing. It felt dark, and mean, and crueler than she probably should be.
But it was her.
I’m not perfect. Maybe I’m a little evil for enjoying killing these things. Right now though, maybe that’s what I need to be.
Surviving the attacks from all three of the monsters at once seemed to drive that assertion home.
Everywhere was claws and flame. There was no possibility of blocking or parrying all of them at once. So Pillowcase did what she did best and simply tanked the pain and injuries.
“[Minor Light Stealing]”
“[Casting spell: Lesser Spirit Drain]”
“[Heart Killer Curse]”
She cast her spells and invoked her abilities over and over allowing the [Minor Life Stealing] to draw a steady stream of regeneration from her foes, while the [Lesser Spirit Drain] stole a bit more and slowed the [Soul Blights], and the [Heart Killer Curse] damaged them and healed her slightly every time their attacks penetrated her defenses.
It wasn’t easy, or pleasant, but after a few minutes of juggling maintaining the [Soul Blights] attention on her with her need to heal and cast, Pillowcase knew Tessa had been right.
They could handle this fight.
“The first one’s almost down,” Alice said. “Be ready for the other two to enter a rage mode.”
Pillowcase braced herself. She’d lost track of the [Soul Blight’s] health. It was hard to believe they were about to defeat one of the monsters that had repeatedly killed a much bigger party.
Well, maybe not that hard to believe. Tessa didn’t voice that thought to anyone else. Pete’s party had been through enough. They didn’t need anyone kicking them while they down.
Even if they were weak sauce compared to her team.
“[Multi-Burst!] [Charged Shot!]” Rip’s barrage landed like the hammer of a god on the damage [Soul Blight] and blasted it to pieces across the room.
Three cheers for magic clothes, Tessa thought, glad she wasn’t going to have to wipe a ton of gore off after the fight.
“Good shot! Now watch the others,” Alice said.
Pillowcase did more than watch though. She charged in close to hit once with a sword strike and the other with a shield bash.
Whatever ridiculous, cheater move they were going to pull, she was not letting them get away from her.
She had them both well under control.
So of course the one that was defeated rose from the dead.
Fully restored to life.
“Are you kidding me!” Pillowcase wasn’t sure who screamed that, but was willing to put reasonable money on it being herself.
“How is it back?” Matt asked. “We just spend five minutes beating every bit of life out of it!”
“[Charge Shot]” Rip said. “Damn it’s not ready yet. Die you jerk. Freaking die!”
“These things can’t be immortal,” Alice said. “That’s ridiculous. Even the damn gods aren’t immortal in this world.”
“If this was still a game, I’d say it was a glitch,” Tessa said.
“A glitch or…oh crap,” Alice said.
“What?” Matt asked.
“It’s not a glitch,” Tessa said, arriving at the same conclusion Alice had. In hindsight it was obvious. “It’s a mechanic. We’re not supposed to fight these things head on like this. There’s a trick we’re supposed to be using.”
“What’s the trick?” Rip yelled.
“I don’t know,” Alice said. “There’s nothing in here that we can manipulate is there?”
Tessa’s mind raced as Pillowcase redoubled her defense.
The room wasn’t empty, but there were no clear environmental hazards to use – no lava to lure the [Soul Blights] into for example.
No special enchantments in play either. Nothing that could be boosting the monsters and nothing she could see that would be able to depower them.
None of the things in the room looked like they would help at all.
They were doomed. They couldn’t win the fight.
Unless what we need isn’t in this room!
“Alice! Get Starchild on the line! Ask them if the critters they fought on the way in had any special drops!”
Tessa’s spirit soared.
She was not going to lose.