There’s never a good time for an attack by zombies with beam rifles to happen. Despite that, Pillowcase felt a particularly severe wave of rage wash over her focused on the ones who interrupted her conversation with Lost Alice.
[Clothworks] weren’t designed with emotional motivators of course. Rage led to efficiency reductions and poor tactical planning. In an elite trooper those were serious design flaws. In an unfettered sapient though, ‘emotional motivators’ could serve as both a weapon and armor.
At least if there was enough training to back them up.
“Don’t…” Lost Alice started to say but Pillowcase heard the sound she’d been waiting for and knew they were out of time.
In dreadful unison, the zombies stopped firing.
Then they began marching.
Tessa’s body wasn’t built for a fight. She’d been a programmer and exercise had not been her friend. If they’d been stuck in her body when they arrived, Pillowcase was pretty sure Tessa would have shattered her wrist the first time she tried to swing a mace.
Despite that, she was on her feet faster than Lost Alice could stop her.
With her left hand, she grabbed the door and swung it open so she could lean out.
“Hey! You looking for another beating?” she called out, making eye contact with the closest Hunger zombie. It wasn’t the [Provoke] skill, but even without using her skills as a [Soul Knight], Pillowcase was confident she could hold the [Formless Hungers] enmity.
“…do anything stupid,” Lost Alice finished, dropping her hand in exasperation.
To her credit though that was the extent of her complaining. Lost Alice was still a relatively new adventurer, but Lisa was a veteran and the middle of a battle was rarely time for in depth tactical discussions.
The Hunger zombies seemed to agree with that point since they lurched forwards with the sort of coordination only badly manipulated rag dolls would be saddled with.
For all their lack of grace though, they didn’t lack when it came to aiming their weapons. Only a terrifying jolt of adrenaline gave Tessa’s body the speed to pull back into the doorway and avoid a barrage of blasts that would have left her a sizzled corpse.
“[Casting spell: Counter Death],” Lost Alice said, placing the mystic barrier around Tessa.
Before Tessa had a chance to thank her, the first of the made it to the door, round into the doorframe with its rifle at shoulder height.
Pillowcase smashed him with the door, sending the rifle flying and knocking the zombie back into the far wall.
It was an impressive hit but it wasn’t what she’d wanted to do.
She’d hoped to stun the zombie but keep him within arms reach so she could properly grapple him and use him as a shield against his comrades.
Except they would have happily shot through their comrade to get to her.
Pillowcase slotted that idea in and asked her brain for a new plan. Tessa’s grey matter wasn’t imprinted with tactical studies and battle protocols like Pillow’s mind stitches were, but human brains weren’t bad hardware for working out that sort of task on the fly.
The next two zombies arrived before her mind spit out a strategy though, so she followed her impulses.
With the door closed between them, the zombies had try to open it. They opted to pull rather than push, which Pillowcase resisted for a second.
“[Casting spell: Lesser Bood Channel],” Lost Alice said.
Pillowcase felt a pulsing warmth spread through her and pains she hadn’t noticed Tessa was carrying faded away.
The zombie yanked harder and the door slipped halfway out of Pillowcase’s grip. She struggled to pull it back a few inches, gritting her teeth and growling. [Clothworks] fought without unnecessary noises but Pillowcase wasn’t fighting like a [Clothwork].
Nor was she fighting as a [Human].
At least not one from Tessa’s world.
The instant the zombies flexed to pull the door open, Pillowcase reversed her hold and threw her full weight behind slamming the door into the zombies’ faces.
This is where it’s going to start to suck, she warned Tessa, in order to brace herself against what she knew was going to follow.
With three zombies momentarily prone, the other two were blocked from getting to the door. They were not however blocked from taking shots at Tessa.
With a speed that didn’t quite rival Alice’s, Pillowcase ducked under the pair of shots which instantly flew at her. She was fast, but that was relative to Tessa’s old self. Dodging blaster fire wasn’t in her wheel house just yet.
One bolt took her in the right arm while the other punched a neat hole through her lower abdomen. Neither hit was instantly fatal and she was so keyed up on a cocktail of fear, anger, and determination that the pain didn’t overwhelm her.
Instead, she felt another tick of the [Lesser Blood Channel] send mystical healing throughout her body.
Lost Alice had her back and having someone she was choosing to fight for made a world of difference in staying focused and staying brave. She wasn’t fully repaired when she barrelled into the two, but the pain from her wounds didn’t hold her back at all.
With another roar she slammed both of the zombies to the floor.
A moment later she was dragged to the ground by two of the other zombies.
On the bright side, her attack with the door had fractured their rifles badly enough that the control mechanisms in the rifles wouldn’t let them fire.
So Pillowcase got the melee fight she’d been hoping for.
Against five foes, each of whom was stronger than she was.
But not by as much as they should have been?
As she tossed one of them off her and into the wall, Tessa sent a silent question as to how Pillowcase was doing that.
Pillowcase had no idea. She hadn’t planned on Tessa having any more strength than she remembered possessing on Earth. Adding that data point to the equation though allowed her subconscious to finish the plan it was working on.
Pillowcase hadn’t expected Tessa’s new found strength, but she knew exactly how to use it.
Yawlorna had met precisely one [Vampire] before coming to the refuge of the last survivors of [Sky’s Edge]. Lost Alice hadn’t been what she’d expected when she thought of “a dreadful drinker or blood and souls” but she’s chalked that up to cultural differences.
Back at home the folklore around [Vampires] cast them as shadowy wraiths capable of paralyzing their victims before slowing drinking them dry. It was considered an especially ignoble death in the old stories since a “True Warrior” was supposed to have an incorruptible will and be able to shrug off the shackles of the undead control.
Yawlorna was proud of how well she could fight. It was part of why she’d been given command of the exploratory expedition. Her crew knew they were venturing into dangerous territory and having someone who could lead them through both academic bureaucracy as well as a pitched battle gave them the courage to face risks that no sensible post-grad would ever risk.
From what Yawlorna had seen of Lost Alice though, only academic prowess was really a required skill for dealing with a [Vampire]. Far from being a mesmerizing monster, Lost Alice had been rather quiet and withdrawn at first, and while she was certainly dangerous, that seemed to be a trait shared by all of the [Adventurers].
The [Vampires] who joined the refugees however were another story.
Yawlorna was eight feet tall. She had more muscle mass that any three of the townsfolk of [Sky’s Edge] put together. Her “demonic” heritage also gifted her with a number of other traits the average person in the [High Beyond] lacked.
None of that made her feel safe in the presence of the clan of predators which entered the room.
They weren’t exactly living shadows, the [Vampires] of the [High Beyond] but the shadows moved around them in a strange and worrisome manner.
What was worse though was the air they presented themselves with.
They didn’t arrive in the cavern as guests, carefully seeking an entrance which wouldn’t trouble their hosts. They didn’t arrive as enemies either though. There was no direct aggression in how they strode into the room.
Each one seemed instead to be a ancient [Lord] entering their own ancestral castle and discovering nothing more noteworthy than that the servants were milling about rather than attending to them directly.
“Now there are some people who do not feel comfortable at all,” Pendant said, gesturing towards the [Vampires] with the cup he’d been drinking from.
How a skeleton drank anything without the liquid splattering onto the floor below was unclear. The researcher in Yawlorna had that as one of the five thousand questions she had for “Mister Pendant” if she could ever get hold of a good note taking device. Without that though she was content to simply engage him in conversation.
“Uncomfortable? Is that what draping themselves over every elevated horizontal surface they can find means?” Yawlorna asked.
“Oh, they’re putting on a fine show of being perfectly at ease,” Pendant said. “Consider though, should anyone be perfectly at ease in a situation like this?”
“Maybe if they were so powerful no one here was a challenge?” Yawlorna said.
“There are people like that,” Pendant agreed. “Unfortunately they’re not here at the moment.”
“That’s a bad thing?” Yawlorna asked, trying to imagine what sort of monster might dwarf the host around her.
“Eh, the one I’m thinking of is one of the nicest people I know,” he said. “To be fair though, you’re not wrong that there are many others who would not be so enjoyable to be sharing this room with.”
“I’m frankly still amazed that we’re all managing to share this area as well as we are,” Yawlorna said, taking another pull from the mug Pendant had given her. In her back, muscles she’d long since forgotten that she’d pulled relaxed and seemed to knit themselves back together. She wanted to ask what sort of magic could ease wounds so old that they’d become a part of her, but, again, without a notepad to write things down on, she felt like the answers would vanish in the haze of whatever crisis next lay ahead of them.
“I notice the children seem to be enamored with your people the most,” Pendant said.
“The feeling seems to be mutual,” Yawlorna said. “I can’t get over how many of them there are. Most of our cities are far larger than this village and we might have half as many children in them as they have here. What are their fertility rates like?”
“Rather astounding if given a supportive environment,” Vixali, the [Vampire Queen] said.
She appeared beside Yawlorna as though materializing from a gentle gust of wind. Yawlorna was reasonably certain that the [Vampire Queen] had simply walked over, but her presence was so muted that even Yawlorna’s gifts hadn’t fully kept track of her.
Yawlorna’s instincts had some choice things to say about that. Ambush predators who were capable of ambushing her were the sort of creature it was generally wise to exterminate on sight, since there was little guarantee that you’d catch sight of them again until they had their claws in you.
Despite her brute-ish qualities though, Yawlorna did not listen to those instincts.
As Pendant had said, the situation was one were every ally they could garner might be needed if any of them were to survive.
“You desire something?” she asked instead of skewering the [Vampire Queen].
“Yes,” Vixali said. “You. I desire you.”
Yawlorna cast a quizzical gaze at her. In Yawlorna’s eyes, the [Vampire Queen] was tiny, and hornless enough to appear as an oddly colored adolescent. Yawlorna knew Vixali had to be more than a toddler but without further information it was hard to take her as much else.
“For what?” Yawlorna asked, and allowed her confusion to show plainly on her face.
“You are large,” Vixali said. “The people here respect that. I need you to make them feel safe with being around me.”
“And how would I do that?” Yawlorna asked.
“Stand with them when I talk to them,” Vixali said. “If you’re by their side, they won’t be quite so concerned I’m going to eat them.”
“And if I say no?”
“Then in about two minutes they’ll be descending on my people with staves and fire,” Vixali said. “We were invited, but that doesn’t mean we’re welcome I’m afraid.”