Pillowcase was in agony. The static fire which wreathed Tessa’s hand was unbearable and no amount of healing magic that Lisa poured into her was enough to repair the damage it was doing.
“[Transdimensional Integrity],” Tessa said invoking a skill only Pillowcase should have had access to.
The static fire on her hand shattered into a hail of immaterial glass shards.
“Stop hurting us!” she screamed and slammed her fist into the face of a zombie who surged up from the pile trying to drag her down.
Her fist left a trail of light through the air as she swung it and on contact released a blinding explosion that hurled her back into the door where Lost Alice was standing.
The Hunger’s zombies were knocked farther down the hall but wasted no time returning to their feet.
In the melee, they’d lost their blasters. Tessa felt a flash of panic when she saw how close the weapons were to the zombies but the Hunger did seem to retain any awareness of them once the blasters were out of the zombies hands.
It did seem to recognize that something had changed though.
Tessa hadn’t seen the zombies look fearful before.
“They’re going to attack again,” Pillowcase said, and from the furtive, side-to-side steps the zombies were taking, Tessa knew she was right. “Sorry about losing focus there. I didn’t know pain like that existed.”
“I didn’t either,” Tessa said. “And you’re doing fantastic. Are you ready for their next charge?”
“No, but we’ll have to be,” Pillowcase said. “The woman we love is counting on us.”
It was not at all the right time for that particular admission to herself, and Tessa’s instinctive response was to slam a thick wall of denial around it.
Except she didn’t want to.
Pushing the idea to the back of her mind to deal with later didn’t work either. She was facing off against certain death and even with the tricks she’d been able to pull off, she hadn’t taken out a single one of the zombies. The least she could do was be honest with herself for a second about what she was fighting for.
The zombies screeched in static shredded rage as the Hunger whipped itself up to confront the new threat that Tessa posed.
It should have been terrifying. Real, agonizing peril fractions of a second away from becoming real.
Tessa turned to look at Lost Alice though and she didn’t feel afraid.
The woman she loved.
She was in love again.
She was able to love again.
With death bearing down on her, Tessa felt more alive than she had in years.
The five zombies charged as one, and reinforced by Lost Alice’s healing magic, Tessa stepped forward to meet their charge fist first.
The glow around her hand flashed through every color of the spectrum as it erupted from every point of her body.
>> [Transdimension Integrity] morphed to [Transdimensional Essence]
That’s when Pillowcase case took control again and Tessa’s body shifted into a near perfect fighting stance.
The fastest zombie took a left jab to the throat.
The one to his right lost the use of its left arm as Pillowcase spun around it, demolishing it with a corkscrew force as she put the zombie between herself and it’s compatriots.
The injury would have been enough to completely incapacitate any human foe but Pillowcase had learned her lesson. The Hunger didn’t care about the state of the zombies body and was more than capable of repairing incapacitating damage that didn’t involve removing large portions of the body.
Lacking a [Disintegrator Rifle], Pillowcase made due with Tessa’s glowing fists.
Shifting her weight back, Pillowcase used the zombies greater weight against it, hauling the creature off balance and spinning it into the wall beside them.
With all of the rising force she could find in Tessa’s body, Pillowcase surged upwards, her left fist carrying the whole of Tessa’s weight behind it in an unchecked uppercut.
Pillowcase knew it was impossible to hope that she could literally punch the zombie’s head off, and she was correct about that. The ghostly echo of the zombie’s form which was knocked free from its body though came as something of a surprise.
The other four zombies who had been tearing at her leapt back at the same moment the zombie Pillowcase hit slumped in her grip and began crumbling to grey ash.
The static ghost screamed an inch away from Tessa’s face and wrapped clawed fingers around her throat.
“No,” she said.
And she didn’t burn.
Tessa had been afraid of them. Afraid of the violence they offered. Every time she’d encountered real violence in her life she’d been left sickened by it. What the [Formless Hunger] was doing was too much too though.
Tessa didn’t deserve this, and for once in her life she saw not only that, but that she was strong enough that she didn’t have to take it.
Pillowcase had her training to fall back on in the face of an assault, but Tessa found something all her own to face the Hunger’s minions with.
“I’ve had enough of you!” Tessa said and wrapped her own hands around the static ghost’s throat, righteous rage surging through her.
The ghost went berserk. It thrashed like it had been the one lit on fire, and wailed loud enough that the stone walls began to visibly shake.
Tessa didn’t let up. The Hunger wasn’t even real and it thought it deserved to hurt her? Just because she existed?
Beneath Tessa’s hands the static ghost’s flickering form of light began to darken, an angry purple-green spreading from where Tessa was teaching it the meaning of pain.
The other zombies recovered at that and dragged Tessa off the static ghost, but the purple-green stain continued spreading through its body.
Four on one odds were still terrible odds even with the new found strength Pillowcase felt flowing through her but for a moment she cheered the idea that she’d at least managed to reduce the odds to only four on one.
Then the purple-green finished covering the static ghost’s head and it’s thrashing stopped.
But it didn’t fall to the ground.
Worse, a moment later when the stain spread through the rest of its body, the creature raised its head and gazed on Tessa with eyes of purple flame.
And then it smiled.
The Hunger wasn’t formless anymore.
It still wasn’t alive but it had become something more real than the thing it had been.
And from the teeth which filled its smile, it was still ravenous.
As rescues went, Rose wasn’t sure three low level adventurers and a bunch of [Lighting Snakes] and [Gloom Drinkers] were going to be enough to save anyone.
Not even themselves.
That did precisely nothing to dissuade her though.
“We’ve got to get there faster,” she said to Jamal on their private channel as the sound of a battle in the distance reached them.
“Go!” he said. “If they’re fighting, there’s still someone to save.”
“You’ll have my back?” Rose asked.
“Always!” he said, and Matt added, “You’re our best friend.”
“Follow me and come in hot on that fight,” Rose said on the team channel for all to hear before invoking one her new skills, “[Lightning Dash]”
The corridor she was racing down blurred in her vision as she executed a movement somewhere between a burst of super speed and outright teleportation.
Turning a corner wasn’t an option without using the walls as springboards and the dizzying speed made it impossible to even think about firing her bow.
None of that mattered though.
She had to reach her…teammates in time (teammates, definitely not “New Moms”, teammates). Willing herself to be faster than lightning wasn’t possible. Willing her body to turn into lightning wasn’t strictly speaking an option either, but Rose’s nerves were crackling with so much electricity as she ran that it seemed like the [Lord of Storms] was, maybe, giving her a little more juice in her skills than she should have been allowed under the strict letter of the world’s physical laws.
When she arrived at the melee, she was greeted by an even more disturbing sight than she’d been expecting.
Tessa was being pulled down to the ground by four Consortium soldiers.
And she was was glowing like a rainbow on fire.
That wasn’t disturbing though.
What brought Rose to a grinding halt was the fifth figure.
It was like a shadow pulled from an oil slick. It’s eyes were purple flames and the ripples of color gave it features, which the Hunger had twisted into a cruel, laughing rictus.
Then there were the teeth. The far too numerous teeth.
It was a [Hungry Shadow].
Obvious. Purely descriptive.
And present on Rip’s heads-up-display just like the name of any other monsters.
She didn’t need to debate if she should join the battle.
She didn’t need to question which enemy was her target.
And she didn’t need to hold back.
“[Thunder Shot],” Rip said.
The arrow which leapt from her bow converted from a simple wooden shaft to a stroke of electricity. It ripped into the [Hungry Shadow] and set it convulsing as the energy began to burn the Shadow from the inside.
That got the attention of the Hunger-Zombies that were tearing at Tessa.
Rip lined up her next shot and saw one of the zombies staring at her with eyes of purple flame.
They all had eyes like that.
“What is happening?” she asked on the team chat and was rewarded by finally hearing Lost Alice’s voice.
“Rip! You’re here? What are you doing here?” Lost Alice said.
“Rescuing you!” Jamal said.
“The Hunger’s coming for you!” Lady Midnight said.
“I think they noticed that!” Rose said.
“Are we too late?” Lady Midnight asked. “Can we get them out of there.”
“We’re not too late,” Rose said, firing more [Thunder Shots] into the melee around Tessa.
“Who needs help more?” Lady Midnight asked.
“Tessa! Help Tessa!” Lost Alice said.
“On it,” Rose said. “[Multi-Burst] [Charged Shot] [Thunder Shot].”
The barrage of skills turned into a storm of lightning that Rip’s Tabbywile’s eyes couldn’t see through for several seconds.
The good news, as her vision cleared, was that her attacks had drawn the attackers off Tessa.
The bad news was that her first sight of them was three of the [Hungry Shadows] leaping off the walls and slamming into her.
She screamed as the first Shadow dug its claws into her, tearing through her armor and slicing a bloody furrow into her left forearm.
Another one clamped it’s teeth onto her other arm, immobilizing it and denying her the ability to fire any more arrows.
“[Casting spell: Minor Blood Channel],” Lost Alice called her, her voice dead calm.
Rose felt the blessed relief of healing magic pour into her, but Rip knew they were still in serious trouble. She didn’t have the durability of a tank and the healing from Lost Alice’s spell was not going to keep up with the damage the Shadows could do.
“[Soul Render],” Tessa called out and her voice echoed like the corridor was a grand stadium.
And then she was there too. Glowing hands hauled the [Hungry Shadows] off Rose and bashed them with blows the Shadows couldn’t ignore.
The [Hungry Shadows] were crueler to Tessa than they’d been Rose. Without Rose’s moderate armor, Tessa was more fragile to begin with and the [Soul Render] stance she’d borrowed from Pillowcase reduced her defenses even further.
Blood flew in too many directions, but Tessa didn’t stop fighting.
The [Formless Hunger] may have been the one who could take people over, but Tessa was the one who fought like a woman possessed. From what Rose could see, she had completely abandoned any sense of self-preservation and was intent on nothing more than destroying the [Hungry Shadows] before they could harm anyone else.
Even if that meant they killed her.
“[Casting spell: Lesser Blood Channel],” Lady Midnight said, catching Tessa a moment before her health emptied out completely.
“[Torment],” Matt Painting said at the same moment, sending one of the [Hungry Shadows] writhing to the ground as [Lightning Snakes] swarmed over the rest.
The cavalry had arrived at last!