Sometimes running towards trouble just happens. Sometimes the sound of another, terrified and in pain, is all it takes to force feet into motion. Sometimes though there’s no hope at all of making it in time.
“Pillowcase! Wait! Where are you going!” Alice called out, racing after Tessa as Tessa sprinted to reach the dungeon’s exit.
“Midnight! Starchild!” Tessa yelled. She didn’t have to. Party chat didn’t need volume to be audible anywhere in the world. “They’re being killed.”
“Where are they?” Rip asked. She was behind Alice and Tessa, running with a bewildered Matt at her side.
A moment earlier they’d finished off a group of [Star Spored Drinkers], wandering monsters who were apparently the result of the [Violet Shambler Mound] mini-boss they’d defeated in the room Tessa was sprinting out of on her quest to reach Lady Midnight’s party.
“I don’t know,” Tessa said. “Heading toward the farmhouse with the [Chaos Centipedes] I think.”
“What’s attacking them?” Alice asked.
“Player killers,” Tessa said. “Ones who can hurt them even without the PvP flag being set.”
“What?” Alice said. “That’s impossible.”
“She said their weapons are hurting them too.”
“Hurting them?” Rip asked, confused as to when weapons wouldn’t hurt.
“Yeah. Worse the the [Soul Blights],” Tessa said, her voice growing frantic. “This is someone who was killed multiple times by those scorpion things and she’s screaming about what the PKer’s are doing to her! We’ve got to help!”
Alice caught Pillowcase’s arm and pulled to slow her down.
“We can’t,” she said and added softly, “we’re too far away.” She held on as they came to a slow stop. “We’re just too far away.”
Pillowcase’s eyes were distant, as though she could see through the hundreds of yards of stone in the dungeon’s walls and across the fields to where Lady Midnight and Starchild were fighting for their lives.
“The best we could do is run right into the PKers after they’ve already killed Midnight and Starchild,” Alice said. “We’re better off heading back to [Sky’s Edge] and meeting Midnight and Star at the [Heart Fire] there. We can find out what we’re up against and go after them all together.”
Pillowcase hadn’t moved and wasn’t turning to face Alice.
“We can probably meet them in Sky’s Edge if we leave now,” Alice offered.
“Hold on a second,” Tessa said. “They’re not alone anymore.”
The golden haired knight waited only long enough for player killer squad’s leader to turn to face her.
He tried to raise his sword in time. He tried to dodge as well. Neither worked.
“Oops. They’re not quite as tough as I thought they were,” the knight said as the leader, who as a [Hill Giant], stood a good three feet taller than her, lost an arm in a shower of static sparkles.
Starchild didn’t waste the opportunity. Seven player killer’s remained, three were still near her and four were crowding around Lady Midnight.
“[Casting Spell: Oaken Armor].” It was one of the two [Druid] spells she have available and Starchild knew it wasn’t going to block much damage but under the circumstances every extra second mattered.
Lady Midnight leapt backwards, in a move Pete had seen [Archers] use frequently. As a [Grave Mender] Lady Midnight didn’t get very far, but the distance gave her the room to bring her staff to bear as a spear against the three player killer’s she’d managed to put in her front arc.
That still left one with a clear shot on her back, a fact Starchild knew fell to her to remedy.
Except it didn’t.
All seven player killers turned, interrupting their attacks with a movement that looked like glass shattering, to face Oblivion’s Daughter, the golden haired knight who [Provoked] them all.
Their howl was the sound of teeth being extracted with a bandsaw.
The knight’s laughter in answer was the warmth of a a carefree summer day.
She struck the leader again and plunged her sword through his torso, releasing a hiss of garbled feedback.
“What the hell are these things?” Claire demanded as she rammed the narrow end of her staff through the throat of the one that had stabbed her in the arm.
“Enemies!” Oblivion’s Daughter said with a cheerful smile as she kicked one into two others.
Starchild wasn’t feeling in top form after being punctured through the chest, but she had enough strength left to swing her staff through the head of one of the player killers closest to her. The green flames of her [Gaia’s Rage] spell reduced not only the head to ash but roared brighter than Starchild had ever seen, devouring the creature’s entire body in a rush of heat that forced everyone back a step from the spot where the creature was immolated.
Normally that level of damage dealing would have attracted far more attention than Starchild was equipped to deal with, but Oblivion’s [Provoke] was still in effect. That was exactly what Starchild needed, but it wasn’t with out cost for Oblivion.
“Oof, not so tough but still nasty,” the knight said as the enemies around her began landing blows past her shield. Starchild saw the knight’s health dropping precariously fast, though still much slower than her own had plummeted when the leader had skewered her.
“Hang on! We’ll help!” Lady Midnight said. “[Casting spell: Minor Blood Channel].”
Starchild debated whether casting another [Oaken Armor], this time targeted at Oblivion’s Daughter who was outside the party and hadn’t benefited from the first one, would be worth it.
With the speed born from her years of training in her grove, she opted instead to renew the [Gaia’s Rage] enchantment on her staff. Protecting their rescuer from a blow or two wasn’t anywhere near as good as thinning the herd that surrounded her and preemptively negating all of the attacks the player killers could make.
Shouldn’t the [Gaia’s Rage] still be running? Pete asked. It’s duration is supposed to be five minutes.
It is, Starchild said. It’s also not usually capable of reducing a foe entirely to ash.
These things are not right at all, are they?
No. They’re not.
Starchild swung again, targeting the one nearest Lady Midnight in case the [Provoke] wore off early. True to Oblivion’s claim, the player killer’s weren’t exceptionally tough and Starchild’s target exploded the same as her first had, with the same terrible wail.
Oblivion’s Daughter was fighting five of the player killers, though the leader was badly enough wounded that it seemed unfair to count him as a viable combatant. Except for the part where he didn’t seem capable of abandoning the fight.
“How…How….You think,” the leader cackled. “How cute…they think…we’re…afraid.”
“You really shouldn’t be like that should you?” Oblivion asked, pushing away a player killer that leapt over the heads of his fellows and tried to bear her to the ground.
“What the hell is wrong with them?” Lady Midnight asked, keeping her concentration focused on the healing she was channeling to the knight.
“Don’t know,” Oblivion said. “But it’s sure not pretty.”
She sliced one of the other player killers across the face and he vomited a noise like an ancient modem connecting at her.
Tessa swayed on her feet. Relief crashing into disbelief and disorientation.
The relief came from hearing Lady Midnight’s words, words Tessa couldn’t believe.
We’re fighting back, Midnight said, and winning I think! They got the PKers off me so I’ve got a healing spell on the player who showed up to help.
Disbelief followed that. Another player had shown up? From nowhere? Right in the nick of time? That sounded more like a game event than an actual occurrence.
Which, in turn, is what led to the disorientation.
Neither as Pillowcase nor as Tessa could she process the sudden whiplash of emotion from the terror of hearing someone dying in agony as they spoke to her to the unbelievable surge of joy at salvation appearing from out of the blue. Both sides of her were waiting for the other shoe to drop. For this new rescuer to turn out to be worse than the player killers. Or for something terrible to come crawling out of the rock walls around her own team, in a sort of “conservation of misery”.
But nothing came.
“What happened?” Alice asked, the question a gentle caress rather than an insistent nudge. “Are they…?”
“No, I think they’re ok,” Tessa said. “Someone showed up to help them. It sounds like the newcomer turned the fight around.”
“I don’t get it,” Matt said.”Why would anyone be player killing now? Don’t they know what that could do to someone?”
“That’s people for you,” Rip said.
“Yeah, they can be jerks,” Tessa said, forcing a laugh into her voice. “I don’t know what special trick or ability these guys found though. Even if they’re irredeemable scumbags, how could they attack someone without getting them to flag for PvP?”
“Maybe there’s a glitch?” Alice said. “Or maybe something Midnight or Starchild did counted as flagging?”
“Even with that though, what kind of weapons do they have that can cause real, unmitigated pain?” Tessa asked.
“Could be anything right?” Rip asked. “I mean when the [Soul Blight] killed us, it didn’t exactly tickle.”
“Maybe, but Midnight sounded worse than that,” Tessa said. “Maybe it’s because I’m a tank, or a [Clothwork], or both, but even fatal blows don’t feel as bad as they probably should. It’s like they’re muted or something? Sort of the echo of pain rather than the pain itself? Or is that just me?”
“No, it’s not just you,” Alice said. “That’s basically how I would describe it too. What about you though Rip? You’re the closest to a baseline human that we have here.”
“I mean, losing heath sucks, but I guess you’re right. I think getting my arms sliced off would probably feel a lot worse than it did when the [Soul Blights] chopped me up if that happened in the real world.”
“What Midnight described sounded even worse than that. Like it hurt more than she thought was possible,” Tessa said.
“That might be more of the lore coming into play,” Alice said. “[Assassins] are supposed to have all sorts of blades which inflict suffering. Could be a poison, or just the property of the blade, or a side effect of a skill?”
“Those would make sense. She just sounded so terrified,” Tessa released a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.
“We usually get to pick our battles,” she said. “PvP is unsettling because it’s someone else getting to pick the battle with us, which usually means they think we’re going to lose.”
Tessa shook out her hands and forced a few more steady breaths out to try to center herself.
“So, what do we do now?” Rip asked.
“Yeah, we could still go to them right?” Matt asked. “In case there are other player killers around?”
Tessa wasn’t sure if he meant it as ‘so that we can protect them’ or ‘so that we’ll be safer with them’. In practice, she supposed, he could easily have meant both.
“We’ve made good progress on this dungeon so far,” Alice said. “Enough that we could call it a day and head back to town. Taking dungeons in stages is pretty typical, especially once you reach the raid tier ones.”
“Yeah, we got some nice loot out of it too,” Rip said, showing off the [Leather Bracers of Precision] she’d picked up from the treasure pool of their last set of trash mobs.
“I got a new spell too,” Matt said. “I, uh, guess I could practice it in town to see how well it works.”
We’re ok! Lady Midnight said. Sorry for the scare. But we beat them! Or, well, our new friend did, but we helped!
Oh thank god! Tessa said. Can you [Coalition] us together? I think we all want to know as much as possible about what happened there.
Sure, Lady Midnight said. Let me just see if Oblivion’s Daughter wants to join us, then she can be in the conversation too.
Ok. I’ll let my party know too, Tessa said.
“They’re ok,” Alice wasn’t asking a question but did look happy at the her statement.
“Yeah, I asked them to [Coalition] with us so we could all chat on one line,” Tessa sound.
“Sounds good to me,” Rip said. “We need to know what to look for.”
“So will we head back to link up with them?” Alice asked.
Tessa paused, and considered that for a moment as she brought her thoughts back together.
“It’s up to you all, but I’m going to suggest we don’t now,” she said after a moment. “You’re right about how good we’re doing with this dungeon, and if you all are game for it, I’d like to see if we can make it through to the end. There’s more loot that can help us out and more levels to earn. We’re all 8th level now right? Let’s see if we can make it to 10th by the time we leave.”
“10th? That’s ambitious,” Alice said.
“It is, but wouldn’t it be nice to be the ones who swoop in and save the next set of people rather than being stuck as the ones who need rescuing?”