The [Mind Crusher] did not care that Pillowcase stood before it with a restrained killing intent in her eyes. It did not care that others were arrayed against it, each wielding lethal power and a burning desire to live despite the battle wounds they carried. All the [Mind Crusher] cared about was the agony of starvation and how the party who had breeched the seal on its domain must inevitably slake its all consuming hunger.
From the [Perching Throne] it rested upon, the construct of madness and shattered psyches spread wings of balefire which cast its domain into murky shadows only creatures of darkness could see through.
“I lost him,” Rip called out. “I can’t see anything in here now.”
“I’ve still got him,” Matt said, the [Revealing Insight] spell he’d acquired blazing on the end of staff as he waited for Pillowcase’s sign that it was safe to begin combat. Matt wasn’t especially dark-aspected but, like Pillowcase, his [Artifax] body was designed better than to let a little thing like the absence of light diminish his visual acuity.
“Rip, wait for his spell to hit and target on that,” Alice said. She was tucked off to the side of the two ranged damage dealers and well behind Pillowcase.
“This one doesn’t look like he’s going to be chatty,” Pillowcase said, her hand drifting to the sword she’d left sheathed as she’d tried to make peaceful overtures to the dungeon boss they’d discovered after fighting through a half dozen trash encounters.
The [Mind Crusher] flailed its tentacles in a silent roar. It didn’t understand the words Pillowcase spoke. It couldn’t, despite possessing excellent hearing and a mind which was an amalgamation of several formerly sentient creatures. The problem was the “former” part of that equation. The [Mind Crusher] wasn’t a failed experiment. It wasn’t even specifically evil. It was simply a horror. Something with an existence bounded by an overwhelming need to destroy and gifted with the capacity to do so against the lesser creatures it was set down amidst. The [Mind Crusher] held no will of its own to understand the evil its creators had constructed it for. It was simply deadly in the same manner as a virus.
“I’m still glad we tried talking first,” Alice said.
“I can keep trying?” Pillowcase suggested, though her fingers itched for the safety of a naked blade in her hand.
The [Mind Crusher] had seen enough.
The things in front of it were prey.
It sprang from the throne it drew sustenance from, intent on reaping the psyches of meals in front of it. Choosing its target wasn’t hard either. They all spoke, so they all had minds which could be devoured but it was the one with the bow who seemed the most delicious, burning bright with intellect and yet showing all the signs of blind and helpless prey.
“[Casting spell: Lesser Spirit Drain]”
The [Mind Crusher] wanted to make Rip its first target but even before it left its roost, its attention was violently refocused to the one with the sword and shield as thread of spellcraft ripped away bits of its life.
It had to destroy her first. It knew this without questioning why or how it held that knowledge.
With claws dripping an elixir of distilled pain, it slashed at Pillowcase, frustration and rage rising at the claws skipped off the shield the [Soul Knight] interposed between them.
“No more talking! Fight!” Alice said, beginning the incantation for a healing spell.
“Mark Prime,” Pillowcase said as she slashed the [Mind Crusher] across the knuckles.
It was the worst wound the [Mind Crusher] had ever felt. The pain was irrelevant. It was the sheer insult that came with the blows. They had to be answered with blood. Nothing else would suffice.
“[Revealing Insight]” Matt said, loosing his newest spell.
The magic struck the [Mind Crusher] and it felt no pain. The spell had done no damage of its own. It had only left the [Mind Crusher] feeling…exposed?
If the [Mind Crusher] had been sentient, and capable of tactical thinking in that moment, it would have worried about a spell which appeared to do nothing.
No one cast spells which have no effect.
Spells could be resisted of course, so there was never a guarantee that a spell would achieve its desired effect, but the one that had hit the [Mind Crusher] hadn’t missed its mark or been thrown off by the [Mind Crusher’s] own magic.
“I see it!” Rip said and loosed her first arrow.
The pain the [Mind Crusher] had expected arrived with the arrow shaft. It was a more debilitating shot that the sword slices Pillowcase was inflicting but it was only pain, and not a substantial amount of that even. The [Archer’s] arrow wasn’t anywhere near as infuriating at the constant nicks the [Soul Knight] was inflicting.
Fanning it’s vast wings, the [Mind Crusher] blasted Pillowcase back into the nearby cave wall, stunning her for a brief moment.
Bulky and ponderous though it might have appeared, the [Mind Crusher] wasn’t slow to follow up on the opportunity it had created. Twisting its body, it shot its right arm forward impossibly far and speared Pillowcase through the shoulder with its talons.
Then it began to drink.
“[Casting spell: Torment]” Matt’s invocation ripped into the [Mind Crusher] and sent shards of the proto-minds within it slicing through its body. The damage was unreasonable for such a low tier spell but the [Torment] spell wasn’t acting alone. It was guided to hit the weakest points of the [Mind Crusher’s] psyche by the [Revealing Insight] debuff Matt had placed on it.
“[Flame Shot],” Rip shouted, targeting the [Mind Crusher’s] elongated elbow. The arrow converted to pure flame as it flew, blazing hot enough that it burned a quarter-size hole directly through the outstretched arm.
The [Mind Crusher] withdrew its injured limb and took to the air, wrapping its wings around its body as its regenerative capabilities mended its wounds.
“Thanks,” Pillowcase said. “I think it was pulling more out of me than health.”
“Probably draining your mental stats,” Alice said. “We’ll have to interrupt any channeled abilities like that.”
“Well, since we’re not trying to be friendly anymore…” Pillowcase said. “[Heart Killer’s Curse].”
Without warning the [Mind Crusher] warped down to stand beside Pillowcase and stabbed the tentacles which rimmed its head straight towards her face.
Pillowcase reacted quickly, pulling away and using her shield to bash the much larger creature to make even more space between them. For as fast as she moved though, the [Mind Crusher’s] head tentacles moved faster, each elongating like the creature’s arms had.
Most were blocked by her helmet and one was sliced off entirely as she parried with her sword but three others struck through.
And triggered the [Heart Killer’s Curse].
The terrible punctures in her cheek and throat closed as fast they were made. The curse ripped the [Mind Crusher’s] life away, damaging it and restoring Pillowcase in the process. Had it been capable of learning, it might have appreciated the dangers of fighting a [Soul Knight] but that was not part of its design.
Despite Pillowcase’s defenses though the fight was far from over. Her party had barely taken off more than ten percent of the bosses health and hadn’t seen any of its more powerful abilities. Nonetheless a vicious smile crossed the [Soul Knight’s] face.
Her team was solid and there wasn’t anything else in the world Pillowcase cared to ask for.
Elsewhere, the abandoned farm was exactly as occupied as the team of three adventurers who’d survived a player killer ambush had been promised. Oblivion’s Daughter was delighted to see the, in her view minor, horde of monsters that waited for them. Her companions however seemed less certain.
“Are you sure you’re going to get anything out of this?” Lady Midnight asked. “You’re 15th level now right? Aren’t these things too weak for you?”
“It’s no problem,” Obby said. “I’ll sync down to you and we’ll be on an even playing field.”
Artificially lowering one’s level was an option in parties but one that was typically only used by friends who were looking to play together. Under the circumstances, Obby knew it was a little odd to offer the same to perfect strangers, but she had goals that went beyond simple leveling.
“If any more of those player killer’s show up you can break the sync immediately,” Pete said, grateful for the offer and aware of what it might cost Obby. “It takes a minute to wear off, but we stalled them for about that long last time.”
“I don’t think we’ll have any problem with the ones we fought,” Obby said. “Something about how they died seemed pretty final.”
“Yeah. I’m still freaked out by that,” Midnight said with a shudder.
They’d finished the fight with the player killer squad in fairly bad shape, but they had finished the fight. At the end all three of them had been standing and none of the player killers were anything more than dissipated angry static on the wind.
“That makes three of us,” Starchild said. “Counting Pete and myself. I don’t mean to speak for you Oblivion’s Daughter. You seemed quite at ease with the battle.”
“To be honest, they were more than I’d expected,” Obby said, stretching her left arm across her chest with her right one. “It’s good you two were there, or I might have bit off more than I could chew.”
“If we hadn’t been there you probably could have avoided them,” Midnight said.
“Could have, probably wouldn’t have though,” Obby said and flashed a cheesy grin at her companions. “I’ve leveled up solo pretty quickly, but aside from the things I was grinding on I haven’t seen much of this place yet. Slowing down a bit is, I’m thinking, a great idea before I run into something I regret tangling with.”
“It sounds like if we go too close to the house, there’s some kind of chain monster that would fall into that category,” Pete said.
“Probably good to save that for later,” Obby said. “Though if Pillowcase and her team were able to handle it, I’d love to see how we can do once you two level up a bit.”
“I think I might have had enough dying and close calls today,” Midnight said.
“That’s fine too,” Obby said. “We’ll see how we can do with the the [Chaos Centipedes] first. I’ll be careful not to pull anything worse until we’re sure it won’t be a problem.”
“We may want to keep our excursion relatively short too,” Starchild said. “Alice extended the offer to join them once we feel comfortable going back to the dungeon.”
“There’s downsides to that though,” Midnight said. “Like we saw with the other party, as soon as we hit five members, the mob spawns scaled up a lot.”
“All the more glory for us!” Obby said and then shrugged. “If we feel up for it. There was also talk about meeting back at town for a broader planning session right?”
“Yeah,” Pete said. “We still have no idea what was up with those…things. I mean maybe those PKers were players like us but if so something went really really wrong when they got pulled over here.”
“Well, we’ve at least warned Pillow’s team,” Midnight said. “So we should be able to spread the word to the other players we run into in the field twice as fast.”
“I just wish the folks back in town we talked to sounded like they were taking this as seriously as Pillow’s team was,” Pete said. “They seemed to be stuck on the idea that they were safe because they were in town, but if those things could attack us without a PvP flag set, I don’t see why the town’s aura would slow them down either.”
“Our best bet is to grow stronger,” Starchild said. “If we’d been 15th level like Oblivion’s Daughter, they wouldn’t have presented any more danger to us than they did to her.”
“You can call me Obby, Starchild. I picked ‘Oblivions Daughter’ for sentimental reasons, but I know it’s a mouthful. Oh, and those things were dangerous to me too. I think they were closer to being event monsters rather than the usual variety.”
“The more I think about them, the creepier they get,” Midnight said. “Let’s go kick some butt. I don’t know I’m going to feel safe until we’re at the level cap.”
“Or back home,” Pete suggested.
“I’d rather be at the level cap,” Midnight said. “Or do you want to gamble on those things not being able to follow us back home too?”