The second battle with the [Chain Lasher] did not go as planned. No battle ever did though, so Pillowcase wasn’t surprised.
“There are definitely more [Chaos Centipedes] above ground now,” Rip said as the farmhouse came into view.
The field which lay between the road and the house wasn’t precisely swarming with giant centipedes, but there were enough that Pillowcase didn’t think her team could cross it without attracting a significant amount of attention.
“Where’s the Lasher?” Matt asked. He had his staff raised in one hand and a spell at the ready in his other.
“No sign of it,” Alice said. “It might have retreated to its lair. That would be typical reset behavior.”
“We should be ready when we engage the centipedes,” Pillowcase said. “It hasn’t been that long so it could still be waiting for us.”
“Doesn’t it think we’re dead?” Matt asked.
“It is was intelligent it might,” Alice said, “but, if its smart enough, it’ll know that adventurer’s come back more than once, and if it only has animal level intelligence it will simply remain agitated for a while. Our deaths would only fool it if it’s intelligence is in a pretty narrow range.”
“So we have to assume we’re not fooling anyone then,” Pillowcase said. “So start with taking a look around. Were are some good spots for fighting?”
She put the question to Rip and Matt as one final test before the battle began again.
“The best spot nearby is about a hundred yards back up the road,” Rip said, “but we wouldn’t be at a good range to shoot things from there.”
“What spaces around here would work then?” Pillowcase asked.
“We could setup behind the wagon up there,” Matt said, pointing a long abandoned cart just inside the split rail fencing around the farm’s fields.
Pillowcase looked at Alice, who shrugged. It wasn’t a great spot, but the broad flat fields didn’t offer much in terms of perfect sniping locations.
“I’ll setup out on the road leading into the farm then,” Alice said. “Maybe about twenty feed back from the gate?”
“The fence won’t hold the centipedes back but it might help channel them to me,” Pillowcase said. “I’ll start the fight just inside the gate, so about twenty feet away from each of you. As we get more centipedes joining in, I’ll pull back and hold them there.”
“Don’t pull back too far,” Alice said. “I’m more or less immobile, so I can’t adjust where I’m at while I’m casting, if you back the fight up over me, things are going to get ugly fast.”
“Right, I’ll be careful when I’m backing up, and when we’re ready to move forward, we’ll do that slowly too,” Pillowcase said. “The last time the Chain Lasher waited until there was fighting inside the house before it came up from its lair. It got pretty beat up in the first fight, so hopefully it will do the same this time.”
“And if it’s out for blood?” Rip asked.
“We don’t want to bring it to half health with the centipedes around,” Pillowcase said. “Those are the first priority to remove.”
“But it was able to eat the dead one’s right? So how do we stop that?” Matt asked.
“When one falls, use your staff’s basic attack on it,” Alice said. “A couple seconds of that will give the corpse the [Immolated] status and reduce it to ash. It’ll mean we can’t loot the body, but these things don’t carry much anyways.”
Plan in place, they marched forward, alert for danger and expecting trouble.
Unfortunately, trouble was also alert and expecting them.
“I’m going to pull the three that are in front of you,” Pillowcase said, advancing forward and gesturing to a trio centipedes around one of the giant holes in the field. “[Casting spell: Lesser…”
She didn’t get to finish the incantation before a razor tipped chain flew past her face. It missed spearing her through the skull only because she reflexively dodged in time.
From a hole which had seemed empty, or at least devoid of centipedes, the [Chain Lasher] emerged, retracting the the chain tentacle it had fired.
“Take down the centipedes! Don’t let them close with the Lasher!” Pillowcase shouted the orders as she braced for the Lasher’s impact.
Unlike the flimsy wooden shield she’d been carrying, the new one Alice had bought for her held firm against the Lasher’s onslaught.
Sparing a glance for Rip and Matt was tricky with the number of attacks she had to block from the Lasher, but from what little she could make out, they weren’t doing too badly.
Between the slowing effect of Matt’s [Lesser Spectral Wounds] and the overall damage the two of them could dish out, none of the three centipedes got anywhere close to them.
“More centipedes on your left!” Alice’s cry caught their attention while Matt was still burning the first of their fallen foes.
“I got them,” Rip said, all confidence and certainty.
Pillowcase wasn’t sure how much of that was warranted but the Lasher was trying to climb over her, so evaluating other people’s problems couldn’t be a priority.
“Don’t think so,” she taunted the Lasher using her sword and shield to hurl in back onto a broken wheelbarrow.
She was pretty sure Alice’s healing spell could stretch a bit farther, so she leaped after the Lasher, hacking with the edges of both her blade and shield to keep it off balance. Against a human foe that would have worked well, but monsters made of anger, steel, and exposed muscle tissue don’t really have an “off balance” state.
Six chains flailed around, two deflecting off Pillowcase’s sword and shield as she parried and stepped back but the other four punctured through her legs and torso.
[Casting spell: Lesser Spirit Drain],” she said through gritted teeth.
The Lasher stabbed her again, right where Tessa’s heart would have been, but Pillowcase wasn’t built with such simple weak points.
“I’m going to enjoy carving you apart,” she said, jamming her sword through one of the muscle patches which bound the Lasher together. It didn’t penetrated deeply or take off much of the creature’s health, but the Lasher’s snarl of pain was exhilarating nonetheless.
Pillowcase wasn’t sure where the dark pleasure at hurting the creature rose from. Battle frenzy was useful for ignoring wounds until healing could be applied, but sadism was a waste of energy. As with other concerns though, that was a worry for some moment when a chain monster wasn’t trying to tear her to pieces.
“Pillow, go defensive,” Alice said, and a moment later the stream of healing she’d been feeding to Pillowcase dwindled to nothing.
The lose of the healing spell was puzzling until Pillowcase heard Rip groaning.
“Status!” she called out.
“We’re fine!” Rip called back.
That was true though Pillowcase knew it had been a close call. Rip Shot’s health had been down in the single digit percentages before Alice had caught her with a healing spell. That was what a good healer did though. Alice was still lacking a lot of the healing options she needed to handle a full party but she was able to make a big difference in a fight simply because she was always aware of the party’s health and who needed her support at each moment.
The [Chain Lasher] tried to capitalize on Pillowcase’s lack of support, but the [Lesser Soul Drain] combined with Pillowcase shifting away from an offensive footing greatly diminished the impact of the attacks which did get through. It was still an endurance battle, one which Pillowcase couldn’t win on her own, but she didn’t need to. All she needed to do was lose slowly enough for the others to bring in the win. Because that was how a team worked.
“Ok, we’re ready to start on the Lasher,” Rip said. “Can we open fire yet?”
“Affirmative,” Pillowcase said. “Burn him down.”
“What about when we get him close to half?” Matt asked.
“Keep pushing,” Pillowcase said. “I’ll start kiting it then to stay away from the buzzsaws.”
“Just keep it away from us or any of the centipedes,” Alice said. She was stating the obvious, but Pillowcase didn’t mind. The team was new, and even experience teams benefited from making sure no one forgot obvious things.
It was a good plan, and more importantly a simple one.
Rip’s arrows and Matt’s spells proved vastly more effective at damaging the Lasher than Pillowcase’s sword, mostly because they were backed by special skills and magic where her strikes were no more damaging than an actual sword swing would be.
Together they drove the Lasher to half health, only this time Pillowcase put some distance between herself and the Lasher before the flurry of buzzsaw blades erupted from the creature.
“Ok, we’re in a new phase of the fight,” Alice said as the cloud of buzzsaws gave chase to Pillowcase.
“What do we now?” Matt asked.
“Keep firing,” Pillowcase said, backpedaling from the Lasher and watching the attack pattern of its new weapons.
“What else can this thing do?” Rip asked.
“Probably nothing,” Alice said. “It’s a low level boss monster. They don’t have a wide range of abilities. Between this and the gas attack it did, that’s probably the limit of the tricks it has at its disposal.”
“Watch at quarter health too though,” Pillowcase said, standing firm again. She’d positioned herself on the opposite side of the Lasher from her team, which gave them unobstructed shots at its back.
Buzzsaws tried to tear into her but since they needed to avoid running into each other, their attack pattern was simple to predict. Even better, while sword strikes against the chains which held the sawblades weren’t able to slice through the metal links, they were able to slice apart the weird muscle groups which were powering the saw’s spinning.
The fight to get the Lasher down to a quarter health was tense but also perfectly controlled. Rip’s shots and Matt’s spell landed in a steady rhythm while Pillowcase’s strikes knocked out one buzzsaw after another.
“Brace for something new,” she said as the Lasher crossed the twenty five percent line.
Surprisingly no new problems arose. As Alice had predicted the Lasher fought on like the murder machine it was, but without deploying any new tricks. Pillowcase was almost disappointed. Wasn’t she meant to fight greater foes than this?
The answer that came to her wasn’t pleasant.
She wasn’t meant to fight monsters at all. She’d been designed to fight the defenders of the [Fallen Kingdoms].
The [Consortium of Pain] had designed their Clothwork Artifax as powerful troopers to send against the strongest armies the [Fallen Kingdom]’s could musters. Pillowcase wasn’t exceptional in that. She hadn’t been one of the Elites woven of special mystical threads with the intent of slaying the powerful heroes among the defenders. She was just a normal soldier, though that meant she was intended to outfight a large number human foes, each of whom might possess a far wider range of abilities than the simple alchemical cast off in front of her.
So why was she so much weaker than she had been?
Defeat had cost her the [Soul Spark] the Consortium had animated her with. She had lost everything she was, apart from her body and the ghost of her memories.
Lost everything, but gained the one thing she’d never known she needed more that the rest.
“Uh, I think it’s doing something new now!” Rip called out the warning without slowing her shots.
Pillowcase shook her head, clearing out the distracting thoughts and saw they’d pushed the Lasher down to less than five percent of its health.
It wasn’t going to go out gracefully though.
Huge shudders ran through the things form and the round central mass started to warp and bulge.
Pillowcase was leaping the moment she heard the first cable inside the monster snap.
As Tessa she never could have made a standing long jump over the Lasher’s body to land behind it and interpose herself between it and the rest of her party.
As Pillowcase she just barely managed it before the Lashers body detonated, the constraints on its central cable’s shattering and sending razor edged lengths of metal spewing across the battlefield for more than a dozen yards in every direction.
To create a shadow which would cover both Alice and the kids, Pillowcase’s only choice was to land close to the Lasher. That she was able to do with no problem.
Surviving the razor bomb however was another matter.