Glimmerglass wasn’t out of magic, she wasn’t out of health, but she was out of time. Above her, a projection of the world spun as a disconnected series of colored sparks in the [Astrologos Observatory]. The sparks were supposed to be a pale green, showing peace and stability. A few, on any other day, would have glowed a bright amber, indicating a local crisis or border skirmish.
The sparks hanging above Glimmerglass were a sickening mix of red for city’s like [Eastrun] where fighting continued unabated and purple where there was no fighting any longer because none of the [Fallen Kingdoms] defenders remained on the field.
Looking around the projected globe, Glimmerglass found a few sparks burning with a bright orange light. Those were where their hopes lay. The places where the defenders of the [Fallen Kingdoms] had been able to claim victory.
Then there was the [Astologos Observatory]. It wasn’t marked on the projection. Technically, it wasn’t part of the [Fallen Kingdoms], despite Glimmerglass being able to look out of the window beside her and see the burning plains which stretched away to the destroyed city of [Doom Crag] far to the east.
The city she hadn’t been able to hold.
No one blamed her. Mellisandra, Damnazon, not even Combrell, the goblin [Assassin] who’d been all but kidnapped and forced to join their party, none of them had spoken a harsh word to her. Holding out against the forces the Consortium had thrown against them had been an unreasonable hope.
But it was still one which Glimmerglass found hard to let die.
“You look like you’re mind is far away,” Cambrell said, dropping back from the crowd which had gathered in the observatory. “Looking forward to tomorrow’s worries or back towards [Doom Crag]?”
“A little bit of both,” Glimmerglass said, forcing a smile onto her face. “Mostly just looking for mistakes from there that we can avoid repeating here.”
“Always more fun to make new mistakes,” Cambrell said. “It sounds like we’re going to get paired up again.”
Glimmerglass looked up. She hadn’t been paying careful attention to the buzz of conversation in the room, preferring to wait for the official announcements. Or that was what she told herself. Wallowing in self-pity might have been a more accurate description a snide inner voice suggested. That wasn’t a fair accusation but it was true enough that Glimmerglass kicked herself for succumbing to that mindset when there was so much else she needed to do.
“I thought your party was full?” she asked. “Did someone not make it back?”
She was certain that all of the adventurers who’d been assigned to her guard detail had either made it to the [Heart Fire] with her or had escaped the town without dying at all. Hadn’t they?
“Oh, sorry, no worries there, all of them are still here,” Cambrell said. “We got lucky. I guess for this raid though we’ll be moving in [Alliances].”
For raids and other challenges that were beyond the power of a single party to deal with various other grouping structures existed. Glimmerglass was used to [Alliances] and [Full Raid Groups] but looking at the devastation which blanketed the land left her wondering how those could possibly be enough.
Everywhere she looked, the forces arrayed against them were overwhelming, crushing not only the defenders strength but their hope as well. Even the assemblage who’d gathered at the observatory had been brought together out of a desperate need to do something, or try anything.
“The Consortium’s ships are in range,” Niminay said. “We’re going to start portaling up to them. Our strategy is simple. Treat this like a newly opened dungeon. Everything is an enemy and anything we find can be turned into loot. Hit them hard and get back out before you’re overwhelmed. If you run into something nasty, call for help. These people are used to thinking like a military. Let’s show them how heroes fight.”
Tessa fell to one knee, her lungs filled not with blood or air but the claws of a [Lava Drinker].
“You’re…you’re starting…to…to mildly annoy me,” she said as she rose to her feet and shoved further into the mass of biting, stabbing, burning monsters in front of her.
The dissociation was gone. She was no more able to passively observe the battle while Pillowcase fought for her than she was able to ignore the pain of her wounds.
The [Lava Drinker] that had slipped past her shield and speared her through the chest screamed and vomited a stream of molten fire into her face. That should have been the end of Pillowcase. Head immolated. Health dropped to zero. No more fight left.
“[Casting spell: Counterdeath],” Lost Alice finished saying between the time when the [Lava Drinker] inhaled and when its fiery breath exploded outwards.
The [Lava Spew] hit the spell’s shield and burned it away, but not before being neutralized itself.
Tessa felt her [Heart Killer’s Curse] rip the life from [Lava Drinker] and seal the injuries in her chest as she smashed the creature into the horde of its brethren.
“Thanks for the save,” she said, leaping back from the horde rather than exploiting any of six easy openings the [Lava Drinkers] had left for her.
The monsters were eager to kill her, driven by an urge that might as well have been a directive written in code, but they were more than simple pixels controlled by a few lines of logic. Enemies in the game had never shown reluctance towards being hurt. They’d never hesitated, looking for a moment to strike when there would be no danger of reprisal.
The [Lava Drinkers] weren’t intelligent from what Tessa could see but they were behaving somewhat reasonably for predators, eager to claim their prize but unwilling to suffer debilitating injuries to do so.
If Obby had been standing beside her as a co-tank, and Rip, Matt and the others had been able to unleash their attacks from the back line, Tessa knew they could have handled the entire hoard.
As it was though both Pillowcase and Alice’s resources were running perilously low.
“Our next retreat will put us in the boss room,” Lisa said. “I don’t see any side passages either.”
“Pushing through here didn’t work,” Tessa said.
“We need to make it work,” Lisa said. “We’re in no shape for a boss battle.”
Tessa knew that would have been true even if they hadn’t encountered the [Lava Drinkers]. Duo’ing a boss was possible but generally only if your equipment was top notch and you were extremely good with your character.
A [Lava Drinker] knocked her shield aside, but Tessa warded off the other two attackers who followed the first in, swinging her mace with another force to knock them all into a pile before springing back, losing more distance rather than gaining it.
“Wait,” she said. “They’re herding us.”
“Yeah, right to the boss.”
“Since when do trash mobs move you towards the end of the dungeon? They’re supposed to slow the party down.”
“There’s not even supposed to be trashed mobs here,” Lisa said. “This dungeon is supposed to be empty still.”
“What if it is?” Tessa asked.
“Those things would seem to disagree with that idea,” Lisa said.
“No, I mean, what if these weren’t what was supposed to be here. What if the dungeon was empty and then something else moved in.”
“How does that help us?” Lisa asked.
“Because there may not be a boss set up in that room,” Tessa said. “And since we haven’t been attacked from that direction yet I think we can say that there’s no [Lava Drinkers] in there.”
“Probably something worse,” Lisa said. “Do you have all your spells in place? How long can you hold out if I go check?”
“I’m good for at least a minute,” Tessa said. “Go. See what we’re up against. Maybe you’ll find this place’s [Heart Fire].”
“Doubt it, but I’ll check. No dying,” Lisa said and broke her healing spell as she moved.
Tessa felt the continuous stream of vitality peter out and began giving ground rapidly. The only thing that prevented her from making it a full retreat was the need to continue harrying the [Lava Drinkers] so that they wouldn’t decide to commit to simply overrunning her.
With rapid blows from her mace, she discouraged each of the [Lava Drinkers] that tried to leap forward and catch up to her. Swing after swing she drove them back gaining distance from the mass of obsidian bodies until she at last noticed that they weren’t following her anymore.
The [Lava Drinkers] didn’t disperse. They simply paused. Waiting tensed in the passageway of polished bone, unwilling to move past some invisible border outside the center of the spiraled spider’s web.
“Tessa, there’s a boss here, but…you should see this,” Lisa said.
She was standing just outside the edge of bosses room, peering in when Tessa caught up to her. It was a smart spot. The place where an experienced adventurer would stand. Just far enough to be able to see everything in the room, without crossing a threshold which might begin bringing things to life.
Tessa stopped just behind her, keeping an ear towards the horde that didn’t seem to be surging forward.
Inside the room a vista awaited which made it spectacularly difficult to keep her attention divided.
“That’s really big,” she said, staring across a cavern with a diameter as large as a football. The path they stood up led down into a maze which resembled a complicated bit of celtic knotwork with walls which were carved out of the same polished bone as the corridors they’d been walking down.
Above the maze a layer of wispy clouds hung, only slightly obscuring the sigil painted in throbbing red across the top of the maze.
None of that was what captured Tessa’s attention though. What she couldn’t take her eyes off was the giant serpent of molten rock which was suspended far above the maze.
From how the [Servant of Fire] writhed, Tessa could see that it was still alive, despite the crimson spears which pierced it through.
“Think that’s what burned the bodies we saw in here?” Lisa asked.
“It looks like it would fit in the tunnels,” Tessa said. “And I can feel the heat its putting out from here.”
“What happened to it?” Lisa asked.
“A trap? Maybe those lances are some kind of defense mechanism for the maze?” Tessa guessed.
“Is that why the [Lava Drinkers] brought us here?” Lisa asked.
“No. They move according to my will,” a man with blemishless skin and a buzzcut said as he stepped from a crimson ripple in space in front of them.
“And who would you be?” Lost Alice asked, her voice lower and echoing with a dark undertone Tessa wasn’t used to hearing in it.
“I am Mikonnel, but you may address me as Supreme Overlord,” Mikonnel said.
“And why would I do that?” Lost Alice asked.
“Because this world will very shortly be mine,” Mikonnel said. “But come in, there’s no use cowering, I’ll find some use for you.”
He gestured and Tessa felt a telekinetic force hurl her forwards, across the threshold of the chamber. As she passed over it, she saw a crimson line at the entrance flare to life and felt shackles form around her wrists and ankles.
Glancing at her status bar she expected to see an endless array of debuffs dragging her capabilities down but the only one which was present was a fairly low tier “rooting” effect which prevented her from moving away from the position where Mikonnel’s telekinetic shove had thrown her.
“A vampire and a ragdoll? What an interesting pair. You’re not from the Consortium are you? They didn’t say they would be sending representatives and it would be unfortunate if they discovered this hideaway.”
“How do you know about the Consortium?” Tessa asked. Memory told her that the [Consortium of Pain] often worked with quislings when ‘opening’ a new world.
“Why who do you think summoned them here?”