Grace / Kamie Anne Do
In Kamie Anne Do’s world any enemy you could defeat without losing all your hit points was a good enemy. Grace’s view was that the best enemy was the one you could defeat without taking any injuries. They both agreed that the [Disjoined Soldiers] didn’t fall into the category of ‘an enemy they really wanted to fight’ though, despite the increasing number of them which they are able to dispatch.
“Where are all these reinforcements coming from?” Battler X asked, fighting back to back with Kamie.
“The last wave were all with the 5th Gryphon squad. These ones are mix of the 5th and the 3rd,” Sergeant Pono said as she tossed her exhausted [Plasma Lancer] away and drew a knife that was long enough to qualify as at least a short sword. Grace suspected the nimbus of vibrating blue energy around its edge was more than a shiny cosmetic effect, but knives had never been her thing.
“Are we going to see more of the 3rd roll in?” she asked, parrying a raking claw strike and counter attacking to break the [Disjoined’s] elbow in the hopes of taking the arm out of commission.
Her punch landed with more force than Grace’s human form ever could have delivered, enough to shatter the bones she hit. In any sort of reasonable fight she would have achieved her objective. What she was embroiled in was nothing like a reasonable fight though.
“We shouldn’t be seeing as many of them as we are,” Pono said. “We were supposed to be operating under [Apocalypse Security Protocols]. The Hunger couldn’t have gotten through those.”
Pono feinted at the soldier in front of her, forcing it back a half step, before spinning to her right and slicing a leg off one of the soldier’s Kamie was fighting.
“Is that what kept you safe?” Grace asked. She took advantage of the opening Pono created to boot the injured [Disjoined Soldier] back into the crowd, knocking down two others who were trying to capitalize on Pono’s momentary distraction.
“Don’t know that I’d call this safe,” Pono said.
“Fair point,” Grace said.
“You said we’re immune to them though?” Battler X asked. She had downed one but didn’t make the mistake of assuming it was going to stay down. Before the soldier could rise again or scramble away, she dropped a quick series of blows to make sure the body was definitely non-functional.
“I don’t know how,” Pono said. “It’s good that you are though. If the Hunger could get it’s claws into you, it could probably use all of the your powers, and then we’d be having more than a mildly bad day.”
“This is mildly bad?” Grail Force asked. She’d taken up a more secure location and was lobbing death down from above into the horde that was trying to push into the boss chamber the adventurer’s had selected as their battle arena.
“I haven’t lost any major organs yet, so, yeah, could be worse,” Pono said.
The other [Consortium Soldiers] who were still in possession of their own wits had been reduced to fighting with melee weapons as well but were acquitting themselves far better than their [Disjoined] comrades who’d been [Devolving] into forms with blades and spikes and bladders of acid under the [Formless Hungers] influence.
“You sound like an adventurer when you talk like that,” Battler X said. “You don’t have respawn points on your ships do you?”
“Our medtech is top notch but dead is dead,” Pono said. “Well, for people at my pay grade anyways.”
“You should definitely take up the adventuring life then,” Grace said. “Don’t even need dental when you could regrow your entire head.”
“That sounds handy, but I’m bound to my post. We all are” Pono said. “Duty before anything else and all that.”
“Seems like your former comrades disagree,” Battler X said, kicking a [Disjoined Soldier] over to Kamie.
“They’re only former because they had their comms open,” Pono said. “Against a [Transdimensional Entity] like a Hunger no amount of [Loyalty Compulsions] can hold someone to their duty.”
“Wait, [Loyalty Compulsions]?” Grace asked. “You mean when there’s magic forcing you to serve the [Consortium of Pain]?”
“It’s cheaper than yearly bonuses,” Pono said. She lost her knife by burying it in the head of the one of the enemies but in exchange she gained a freshly charged [Plasma Lancer] and was able to able to open fire immediately.
“Do we have anyone who can [Dispel] control debuffs?” Grace asked on the adventurer’s private channel.
“Yeah, I think so,” Grail Force said on the private channel. “Back at the refuge there’s at least a couple.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Grace asked, sure that everyone could see the same opportunity she could.
“Yeah, definitely,” Buzz Fightyear said. “Only problem is I don’t see how we’re going to get them back to the refuge. If we leave this spot, the [Disjoined] will be able to get to a place where they’re not stuck under a level cap.”
“And there’s a whole bunch more of them coming,” Battler X said. She’d pressed through the crowd enough to be able to look down the corridor which led into the boss chamber.
Grace wasn’t thrilled by the intel but she wasn’t surprised by it either. The [Formless Hunger] didn’t seem to be the sort of monster that was able to learn from its defeats.
Or it has inexhaustible strength and simply didn’t care about the temporary victories Grace and her team were winning.
Either or both were possible, but Grace liked the first interpretation better.
“Maybe we don’t have to get them to the refuge,” Grace said. “All we really need is one of the dispellers to come to us as reinforcements, after all it looks like we’re going to be here for a while.”
No sooner had she said that than a wave seemed to pass through the [Disjoined].
“Whatever that was, I’m sure it wasn’t good,” Pono said.
Grace was inclined to agree with her.
The weird, hissing static in the [Disjoined] eyes and mouth was swept away by the wave. In its place a purple flame began to burn in their eyes.
“Brace for something bad,” Grace said.
And then the strangest thing happened; the former [Disjoined] began to flow out of the room, like a receding tide.
Something was calling them away.
The nice thing about an implacable foe was that they were so terribly predictable. Azma didn’t take that as an excuse to rest though. She was running a race against so many different forces that being able to ignore the [Formless Hunger] for a while only meant that she had time to plan out the moves she’d be taking in the hours and days to come.
She’d built up a variety of beautiful models in her mind, solid plans and wild alternates and subtle variations based on the range of responses from the Consortium and the defenders on the planet below. For the actions of those she commanded or could influence into action, she always assumed a statistically significant level of underperformance. Incompetence was a universal trait in her experience and while large, intricate plans were a path to victory in many cases, it was in all cases foolish to assume that the cogs which enacted those plans could be trusts with even the smallest degree of complexity.
The only person Azma trusted to be able to see the scope of her machinations and keep the various threads straight was herself.
Which meant she was also the only one who could appreciate exactly how disappointing and terrifying it was what a fundamental aspect of those plans when horribly awry.
“Containment Unit 7 is showing a full burst detonation,” Grenslaw said. “Indirect telemetry suggests the personnel from Unit 7 were out of the blast radius when the burst occurred.”
“Good, good,” Azma said, paying only marginal attention to a result which she already knew was the only real outcome possible. “Has the Hunger overwhelmed Unit 7 yet?”
The timing on the Hunger devouring the containment unit was slightly wobbly. It was possible the containment unit had expended it’s remaining charge in the burst and would fail instantly when the Hunger moved against it. Alternatively it might be able to put up a defense for a few dozen seconds. The more time the better since it would give the troops more time to leave the Hunger’s area of influence but ultimately all that was required was for the Hunger to shift itself out of position. That would leave it too far extended to reach the troops directly and they were all shielded for indirect contacts. Azma was ready for either eventuality but neither one required a change in her plans.
The report she received however did.
“Unit 7 is not being attacked,” Grenslaw said.
“That’s not possible,” Azma said, vague annoyance at the poor data collection available to them rising behind her eyes. “Whatever the Hunger seems to be doing near it is an attack.”
“There is no sign of movement from the [Transdimensional Entity],” Grenslaw said.
“There’s…what?” Azma’s plans didn’t collapse then. She was used to incompetence and if she’d momentarily forgotten its prevalence in light of Grenslaw’s exemplary service, she still had it factored into several of her plans.
Also, denial is a powerful drug and a drug even the powerful can fail to avoid indulging in on the wrong occasions.
“Indirect telemetry shows no sign of movement,” Grenslaw said. “Shall I order one of the abandoned ships to perform an active scan?”
Azma paused, feeling her plans teetering.
If they used a downed ship to actively search for the Hunger, they would only get one set of responses back before they had to assume that the ship was contaminated after that.
“Yes. Do it,” Azma said. The cost was phenomenal compared to the data provided but if Azma couldn’t direct the Hunger, the value of a ship wasn’t going to play a meaningful role in her future.
It took a five second eternity before the answer appeared on Grenslaw’s monitor.
“No movement detected by an active scan either.”
Azma’s plans crashed down around her, brittle shards sending icy panic racing through her veins.
The combat squad she’d brought with her tensed.
The moment when the [Supreme Commander] learned that their careful plans had all failed was almost always the moment when Consortium leaders decided to vent their rage and disappointment in a bloody fashion.
Azma was the exception.
She simply closed her eyes and began to think.
Had the initial analysis been wrong? Was it possible they hadn’t ever been dealing with a [Transdimensional Entity]?
No. Based on the Hunger’s destruction of the ships which its suborned, the first appraisal had been correct.
Was it possible the Hunger was faking? Playing passive to lure in more troops which is could take control of?
Again, no. That level of planning required capabilities which entities like the Hunger didn’t posses. Or rather couldn’t possess. A Hunger didn’t have a will. It was defined only be its hunger. For one not to respond to a chance to feed, it would have to no longer be a [Formless Hunger] at all.
Azma paused there, considering the implications of that thought.
Not a Hunger.
No. Not a [Formless Hunger] any longer.
It had changed.
“Find another ship,” she said. “Do another active scan. I want a composition report this time.”
“The expected result for a composition scan of a [Transdimensional Entity] is a ‘Failed to Read’ error,” Grenslaw said. “I have one prepped now. Awaiting orders to trigger it.”
Azma smiled. Grenslaw was providing the proper feedback to ensure Azma wasn’t wasting a resource while also understanding that there was more to the request that was immediately apparent.
“Perform the scan,” Azma said. “I’m afraid it’s not going to be read failure.”
It was Grenslaw’s turn to take a moment of silence.
“The composition scan succeeded. Also indirect telemetry has provided new data,” Greslaw said, visibly stunned. “The [Entity] has begun to move.”