The race to the [Ruins of Sky’s Edge] was lost before it began. Tessa felt Pillowcase’s untiring legs eat up the distance to the smouldering and collapsed buildings. She ran further and faster than she could have ever run as a human, only holding back her speed to make sure she wasn’t leaving the slower members of the party behind. Even if she’d run all out though, it wouldn’t have mattered. She couldn’t outrun a ghost.
The first of the respawned [Disjoined] hit her at the outskirts of the ruins.
It burst through a waist high wall of ash and charred wood.
It had been waiting for them.
“Die doll die doll die doll,” it singsonged like a record with a scratch in its soul.
The [Disjoined] wasn’t holding any weapon but as it swung its arm, a blade of static light materialized in its grip.
Pillowcase got her shield in place in time to deflect the blow in a shower of sparks, but the shield was cut through in an ugly, uneven track as long as Pillowcase’s hand.
“My doll die doll kill doll killed my,” the [Disjoined] was wild with glee.
Until a [Flame Shot] from Rip blasted it to a spray of dark chunks.
“I think you got that one last time,” Obby said.
“It was hunting me then?” Tessa asked, and immediately saw the problem with that. “Everyone group up tight. Damage dealers make sure we can block for you.”
“They’re holding aggro across death?” Lisa asked.
“Or they respawn aggro’d on whoever killed them,” Obby said.
“How do we kill them for good?” Rip asked.
“We’ve got to find the remains of the [Heart Fire],” Tessa said. “That has to be what they’re using to respawn.”
Two more leapt up from the ashes where they’d hurriedly buried themselves, only to be shattered by Starchild’s staff and a shield bash from Obby.
“This is going to get a lot harder as we get closer to the [Heart Fire],” Lisa said.
“Yeah, they’re stupid enough to trickle back here rather than grouping up, but the closer we get to their spawn point the less that’ll happen,” Lady Midnight said.
“We beat them when they were all together, is it really going to be a problem if we have to do that again?” Rip asked.
“We had a terrain advantage there,” Tessa said. “Plenty of room and we were able to engage with you at range. We don’t want to let them get…”
She was cut off by one of the [Disjoined] pulling Rip into a pit just off the path she’d been walking on.
Matt didn’t miss a beat, diving to grab hold of her arms before she could fall out of view.
Rip had a different solution though, firing an exploding arrow directly beneath herself and letting the knockback from the explosion blow her clear.
Tessa turned to see if Rip needed help but spun back forward as another [Disjoined] raced over the pile of rubble beside her and tried to bowl Pillowcase over.
“More incoming!” Obby said.
Tessa felt a pulse of magic almost identical to adrenaline race down Pillowcase’s limbs. The snarling monster in front of her was twisting inside its skin in a manner no living creature possibly could. Tessa was sure she could deal with it, but putting the monster down before the rest arrived appeared unlikely.
So she didn’t try.
One of the requirements for playing well had always been being aware of what you were and were not capable of. Overextending might occasionally win an unexpected victory but more often than not it covered the party in failure rather than glory.
Pillowcase’s job was to tank the mobs. Beating them solo was nice too, but if she didn’t cover the bases the team was relying on her to handle, then no amount of personal glory would pay for the cost of falling short.
“[Casting spell: Lesser Spirit Drain],” Tessa said, feeling the wave of magic pour through her. She was Pillowcase enough to handle directing it without much conscious though, but also Tessa enough to be conscious of how amazing it was that she could cast spells now. The feeling might get old at some point, but Tessa suspected that would be a long time coming.
The spell landed on a handful of [Disjoined] who were charging the party in a rough clusters. Four of the [Disjoined] writhed as the magic drained their lives away and fed it to Pillowcase. The last [Disjoined] though wasn’t affected by the spell.
Tessa watched the strand of magic going to that [Disjoined] bend and fracture, the end of it hissing away as bits of staticky light tore it apart.
“Watch out, they have some weird magic resistance,” she said and jumped forward to slam a heavy blow into the forehead of the one the [Lesser Spirit Drain] spell missed.
“Is that new?” Matt asked. “I didn’t have any trouble with them before.”
“They ate our spells when we fought them the first time,” Starchild said.
“They’re not leveling like we are but they’re growing worse,” she said. “If their respawning as [Disjoined], there’s not enough left of them to come back, so each time they’re disintegrating a bit further.”
“Do we stop killing them then?” Rip asked, holding her fire at the group of [Disjoined] Pillowcase had provoked.
“It’d be nice if that was an option but I don’t think it is,” Obby said.
“She’s right,” Lisa said. “The damage they do is going up, and taking off that weird status effect they inflict is taking a lot of magic.”
“Should we fall back?” Matt asked, blasting one of the [Disjoined] near Pillowcase with a bolt of lightning from his staff.
“If we do, the problem’s going to get worse,” Tessa said. “We need to get to the [Heart Fire], or whatever’s left of it.”
“We’ve got enough magic to hold up for a bit,” Lady Midnight said. “Do we rush it now?”
“Maybe after this wave?” Lisa said. Tessa could see she was handling the status removal spells and letting Lady Midnight take the less demanding task of rotating healing spells between the party’s two tank at a steady rate.
Before Tessa could answer, another half dozen [Disjoined] appeared, rising directly from the ground around them.
She hurled another [Lesser Spirit Drain] at the newcomers who were in range, trusting Obby to pick up the others. The bright side was that she drew the monsters attention away from the healers and the ranged damage dealer, but it was at the cost of being dropped to the ground as her arms and legs all suffered the deadly numbing hits.
In a purely objective sense, she remained in decent shape. Her health bars dipped to the 50% range but between Lady Midnight’s healing and Pillowcase’s spells and own regenerative ability she was regaining what health she’d lost slightly faster than the [Disjoined] who were gathered around her could tear it away.
Subjectively though, the pain was unbearable. Being blown to bits by the [Chain Lasher] had been unpleasant, but the small cuts the [Disjoined] were making was a thousand times worse.
Tessa felt like something was reaching inside Pillowcase’s body and stabbing her right in the soul.
The world swam around her, maybe from the pain, although Pillowcase didn’t think that was the case.
Lisa landed purification spell after purification spell on her, and Tessa shot back to her feet, smashing one of the [Disjoined] in the neck in the process.
“Mine. Should have been mine. Mine. Should have. Mine,” the Disjoined said, knocking its head to the side to push the head of Tessa’s mace through itself in a disturbing fountain of flames.
Pillowcase didn’t have time to be either impressed or disturbed by the display, especially not when another eight [Disjoined] stepped out of the smoke which was blowing through the [Ruins of Sky’s Egde].
“Is there any end to these jerks?” Matt asked.
Tessa struck out with a wide shield bash, knocking the nearby [Disjoined] away so buy herself a moment to think.
“My doll die doll kill doll killed my,” another [Disjoined] said as it rose from the ground in front of her.
As nonsensical as they were, the words were familiar.
“Didn’t I just kill you?” Tessa asked.
It had seemed plausible that the other [Disjoined] had been rising up from hiding places they’d prepared after respawning, but Tessa saw that wasn’t what had been happening at all.
“They’re spawning on us!” she said.
“But there’s no bodies to revive in,” Lady Midnight said.
“They don’t need bodies,” Obby said, slashing one in half.
As the gobs of light fell from the [Disjoined’s] exploding corpse, the ground began to sizzle where they landed, stone de-rezzing in the same unnatural manner the [Disjoined] did. Immediately another, or maybe the same, Disjoined rose from the spot where the first had fallen.
“They’re not trickling anymore!” Tessa said. “They’ve figure out how to respawn at a distance.”
“That’s not possible,” Lady Midnight said.
“It shouldn’t be,” Obby said. “But it looks like that’s what they’re doing.”
Tessa felt the hairs on her neck – specifically the human hairs on her human neck – stand up as more [Disjoined] rose from the ruins.
“I think this place might be lost already,” Matt said, his metallic voice carrying the preternatural calm which told Tessa that Matt-Painting-the-Artifax was probably handling things at the moment rather than the boy from Earth.
“I could go search for the [Heart Fire],” Rip said without pausing the barrage she was laying out.
“I think I’ve already had my lesson for why splitting the party is bad,” Tessa said. “If they’re spawning on us though, there’s no reason not to rush the chapel where [Heart Fire] was.”
“Yeah, we need to get there now,” Obby said.
Tessa wasn’t sure which of them started running first. It didn’t matter sense they both hard to slam a path through the [Disjoined] around them. Tessa cast another [Lesser Spirit Drain] to make sure all of the ones she was facing stayed interested in her, but apart from that she relied on her speed to avoid attacks from ost of the [Disjoined].
[Sky’s Edge] hadn’t been a big town, so crashing through the ruins and the ever more spectral [Disjoined] which rose to stop them wasn’t a long process.
“Rip, Matt, Star, head in and see if you can find the remains of the [Heart Fire], the rest of us will stay here and hold off those guys.” Tessa gestured to the horde they’d only barely outrun.
“If we had our level 99s, this would be a hell of a lot easier,” Lisa said.
“Maybe. I’m kind of terrified to think what these things would look like if they made of level 99 adventurers though,” Tessa said and she spun and shattered two of the Disjoined with one cleaving blow.
“Any luck with the [Heart Fire]?” Obby asked, directing her comment to the three inside the shell of the [Chapel].
“Sort of…” Matt said.
“Not. Sort of not,” Rip said.
“This isn’t right,” Starchild said.
“What is it,” Lisa said, gritting her teeth to maintain her spells as a [Disjoined] appeared behind her and tagged her on the arm.
“We found the [Heart Fire],” Rip said. “Except it’s not a [Heart Fire] any more. What we’re seeing says it’s a [Null Sec Corrupted Flame] and it hurts to even look at it.”
“Leave it alone,” Obby said. “We need to get out of here.”
“Can’t we destroy it somehow?” Tessa asked.
“We don’t have the power for that,” Obby said. “Not as we are now.”
“Then we’re out of here,” Tessa said. “Let’s cut a path to the north. We can flee towards the [Lord of Storms] dungeon.”
“That sounds good, cause the thing now says its an [Unstable Null Sec Corrupted Flame],” Rip said.
“Run!” Obby screamed, unleashing a furious slash that destroyed all of the [Disjoined] in a wide arc in front of her.
They reached the former limit of town, where [Sky’s Edge] status as a [Town] came into effect, when the wave of destruction erupted behind them.
For a moment Tessa’s mind went completely blank, noise in indescribable tones chewing away every thought. It was her mind though and neither she nor Pillowcase was willing to let some alien anti-voice try to change that.
As she blinked her eyes clear though, Tessa saw the [Ruins of Sky’s Edge] had been able to make the same choice.
Where the ruins of a town had once stood, only a field of crackling black and white static remained, it’s hiss carrying the wordless voice of something far more alien to the [Fallen Kingdoms] than she ever could be.