Tessa was done. She had nothing left. They’d fought the [Mind Crusher] till it was down to the last sliver of its health. She’d endured every attack it possessed, many, many times over. The fight however was still going.
“Just DIE!” she screamed, casting aside battle training, experience, and even basic tactics.
“[Multi-Burst] will be ready again in twenty seconds,” Rip said. “We’ve got this.”
“I’m out of magic, maybe fifteen seconds before I’ve got enough for another Spectral,” Matt said.
Both continued to attack as best they could, Rip firing regular arrows from her never emptying quiver and Matt directing a bolt of lightning from the end of his staff.
“I can get [Minor Blood Channel] up in ten seconds too,” Alice said. “Turtle up and we’ll keep fighting through.”
“Can’t! It’s regenerating too fast!” Tessa said. “We need another DPS.”
“No magic left to conjure one of those,” Alice said, her tone light. They were perhaps moments away from losing the fight despite pressing it to the very end, but Alice was able to view it with experienced eyes and that comforted Tessa more than anything else could have.
“Guess it’s time to do something stupid then,” Tessa said as she watched the [Mind Crusher’s] health ticking back up faster than her team could inflict wounds on it until it regained 10% of its health..
They’d been through this cycle seven times already, with each pass through hinging on the hope that they could save up enough resources to finally deliver a burst of damage sufficient to end the monster which was mindlessly tearing pieces out of Pillowcase as it had been doing for more than a half hour.
“Do it. I’ve got your back,” Alice said.
“[Soul Render].” Tessa invoked the skill she’d earned at 9th level and felt her wounds scream in pain as her durability plummeted.
Along with the pain however came an unholy amount of strength. Her tired and weary frame felt so much lighter and faster as violet shadows flickered to life like flames around her head and shoulders.
The seemingly untiring [Mind Crusher] contracted into itself for another [Death Spasm] but rather than avoid the attack, Pillowcase stepped into it smashing the monster away with a fantastic [Shield Bash]. The move cost her the use of her left leg when the [Death Spasm] fired but it was worth it to see the chunk of its health disappear faster than the monster could heal.
One blow wasn’t enough to end the fight though. With more work to be done, Pillowcase jumped off her right leg, and sailed through the air to land on the [Mind Crusher] sword first and began hacking away.
Throughout thew fight, her blows had done little more than annoy the [Mind Crusher]. The damage she’d inflicted was akin to tiny paper cuts which her skills then dunked in lemon juice and salt.
[Soul Render] changed that.
Where normally a [Soul Knight] was built for tanking, the class did have the option to switch to a more offensive mode. [Soul Render] cost the [Soul Knight] a large portion of the reinforcement magics they held, making them far more vulnerable to damage than normal. In exchange, Pillowcase’s blows hacked through the [Mind Crusher] tearing deep wounds into its endlessly regenerating flesh.
The [Mind Crusher] tried to light her on fire again, but the flames didn’t diminish Pillowcase’s assault. They hurt worse than any previous attack, but Tessa noticed the pain was still somehow distant. It was present enough to alert her to the danger, but muffled, as though Pillowcase’s capacity to feel injury was less than a tenth of her own.
Another [Death Spasm] erupted from the [Mind Crusher], costing Pillowcase the use of her left arm.
“Die! DIE!” Tessa pushed the irrelevant pain out of her mind. It was nothing more than distraction. Alice would heal her. She’d be fine.
Except the [Mind Cusher] stabbed her in the right shoulder, severing the cords which gave her right arm vitality and motion.
As her sword and shield tumbled from her nerveless arms, Tessa knew that she was out of options. She couldn’t dodge or block the next [Death Spasm] and once she fell, everyone else was going to drop within seconds.
She readied herself to leap away nonetheless, but as she did she stumbled and went falling backwards to the ground.
She watched the [Mind Crusher] compress itself again but before its final [Death Spasm] could fire, Alice was there, standing as a shield in front of Tessa.
Tessa watched the spikes tear into the vampire and drop Alice to the ground as a bloody mess. That one attack had wiped out the entirety of Alice’s health bar save for a single point and the next would finish her.
“[Multi-Burst][Flame Shot],” Rip yelled.
“[Lesser Spectral Wounds],” Matt added.
And like that, the [Mind Crusher] was no more. The spell and the barrage of arrows tore through the tiny bit of health which Tessa’s attacks hadn’t been able to remove.
Tessa felt Pillowcase’s innate healing abilities rally, though weaker than normal. She canceled the [Soul Render] stance to bring them back to their proper level and dragged herself over to Alice’s prone body.
There was less blood than there should have been given the horrible brutality of Alice’s wounds. It was a good sign, although the shape Alice was in looked from good.
“Glad…” Alice started to say and then had to pause to forcibly draw in a breath. “Glad I don’t need air to survive as a vampire.”
“That was incredible. Are you ok? Or, I mean, will you be?” Tessa asked.
“Yeah. I just need to rest a bit. Once my magic is back up to full I can fix all this.”
“Sorry you needed to do that,” Tessa said, pulling Alice up to a seating position so that the blood which was still flowing from her wounds wouldn’t pool around her face.
“I’m not,” Alice said, too weary from both the long fight and her critical wounds to keep her eyes open.
“That was amazing! We did it!” Rip didn’t so much walk over to them as bounce.
Matt was more sedate, showing the same weariness as Alice. “I’m sorry I ran out of magic there. I should have been more careful with it, then we would have had enough to take him down a lot sooner.”
“It’s not your fault,” Alice said, content to rest against Pillowcase for support while her magic recovered.
“We were under-leveled for that fight, and at half strength for a dungeon team,” Tessa said. “You two did the work of at least four people in that fight, maybe six depending on the team’s composition.”
“Without what you did though we never would have gotten through it,” Rip said.
“That’s our dear tank,” Alice said and slumped against Pillowcase. “Wow, you really do live up to your name.”
“I think you get the tanking credit this time,” Tessa said. “Body shielding as a healer? That takes some real guts. And look, I can see them, over there and over there, and over there.”
Alice laughed weakly.
“When I say no one’s gonna die, I mean No. One. Is. Going. To. Die. No matter what.”
Obby liked her newfriends and she sincerely hoped she wasn’t going to have to obliterate them.
“That’s level 10 for us,” Pete said. “I think we can go through a few more until Lady Midnight reaches 10 and then we’ll be getting nothing for the [Chaos Centipedes].”
“An end to bug guts and green goo! Can it ever come!” Lady Midnight’s complaint was more in jest than serious but Obby could see Midnight’s humor was a bit forced around the edges.
“We could always try the [Chain Lasher] if you’d prefer?” Obby teased.
“You know what? I’m ok with that,” Midnight said. “We’re well past the level when Alice’s team fought that thing. Let’s see how we do. Worst case we run back to town as ghosts and respawn there instead of here.”
Strictly speaking, that wasn’t the worst case outcome, but Obby had no intention of squashing Lady Midnight’s enthusiasm.
“”We’re ready for it whenever you are,” Starchild said, nodding her agreement to Obby.
“Ok then!” Obby cheered. “Let’s take the fight right to that thing!”
“There are [Chaos Centipedes] inside too right?” Midnight asked.
“Yep! Lots of them!” Obby said. There was a good chance the foes in the abandoned farm house would test her beyond her limits. There was a good chance her small team would fail and suffer an ignominious defeat. Obby wasn’t interested in self-destruction, but the prospect of being in that serious of a battle thrilled her to the tips of her toes.
Lady Midnight hefted the new [Staff of Scorching] she’d claimed from the last treasure horde. “Good. Let’s do this then!”
Obby gave her best war cry as she charged into the farmhouse. She was still level limited so that the others could earn experience but that seemed like a terrible reason to avoid waking up every creature in the area that she could.
Tessa didn’t mind supporting Alice. It was quite comfortable. Even to a Artifax body’s limited sense of touch, Alice still felt warm and solid and maybe a little too comfortable to have resting against her.
“We should divide up the loot,” Tessa suggested, not wanting to push Alice away but acutely aware that the temptation that was growing in Pillowcase’s breast was entirely one-sided given the fact that Alice was already taken.
“Hmm, yeah, I suppose we should,” Alice said, sitting up and stretching as the last of her magic returned. “Still more dungeon to go.”
“At least we hit level 10 though!” Rip said.
Level 10 had always been a noteworthy low level accomplishment in the game and they’d all gained class-defining abilities to go along with it.
For Pillowcase’s reward, Tessa had been able to select [Knight’s Devotion], a unique ability which charged up based on the damage she took and then expended the stored energy for a variety of effects. The basic version granted a special damage shield with a limited duration but which could absorb twice as much damage as it had been charged up by.
It took careful planning and timing to use [Knight’s Devotion] well, but from what Tessa had seen as Glimmerglass, a talented [Soul Knight] could turn an entire encounter around even with only the basic version of the ability as they rallied from the edge of death to be virtually unkillable as the rest of the party recovered.
“Should we reach out to Starchild and her team?” Matt asked. “I mean, we could use some more damage dealers right?”
“We’ll need to backtrack a ways to meet up with them, but it might be worth it,” Alice said as she selected a pair of [Embroidered Bracers of the Arcane] from the treasure horde and glanced to the others for permission to claim them.
Tessa nodded her agreement (the more magic Alice had the better in Tessa’s view).
“What about the problem with bigger parties running into tougher spawns?” Rip asked.
“That’s still a danger,” Tessa said. “I’m betting the [Mind Crusher] would have had minions spawning every few minutes if we had a full party for example.”
“So having them with us might make things harder?” Matt asked.
“Yes and no,” Tessa said. “We’d be facing more foes, but gaining more experience too.”
“More foes and tougher ones,” Alice said. “But, our ability to deal with them would be higher. With another healer and another tank, we’d have more flexibility and a bigger safety net to work with.”
“But we didn’t want to invite them before right?” Rip asked.
“I don’t think we were ready before,” Tessa said. “There’s a lot more to fighting that just throwing numbers at a problem. We’re still not as skillful as a great dungeon team should be in terms of coordination, but I don’t think we would have gotten through the [Mind Crusher] if we didn’t have the basics down.”
“What if they suck?” Rip asked.
“Then we split up again,” Alice said. “Some parties just don’t work out, even when the people in them are individually good.”
“Will it mean less treasure?” Matt asked.
“At this level? Not really,” Alice said. “We’re not getting Rare-Tier drops yet, just basic equipment and gatherables, and those drop for everyone. If we have seven in the party we’ll just get three extra drop chances per defeat.”
“Which means a lot more chances for the item you need to drop,” Tessa said. “We’ll just need work out how we handle items that multiple people can make use of.”
“We can probably just go with random rolls and then alternate when it matters,” Alice said.
“That’s what my guild used to do too,” Tessa said, struck for a moment at how similar her party was to one of the ad hoc groups her old friends would throw together. A shiver of old pain came along with that thought. No. This isn’t the same. They’re not going to leave me alone here.
“Do you think they’ll still be interested?” Rip asked.
Before Tessa could venture a guess, a telepathic ping arrived and she accepted it.
Oh hi! Tessa? This is Pete again, I hate to be a bother, but is there any chance you folks might want to team up for bit?
Funny you should ask, we were just talking about that, Tess said.
I’m regretting that we didn’t stay with you folks for the [Soul Blight] battle, Pete said.
No worries, Tessa said. I think we needed to get through that on our own and get our teamwork down. At this point what we could use is some [Druid] melee power though.
That’s wonderful! And Starchild is totally onboard for providing that. We just have one little problem.
Tessa raised one of Pillowcase’s eyebrows. “Little problems” were never little in her experience.
And that would be? she asked.
Well, it turns out that there’s a dungeon beneath the abandoned farm house you went to and we don’t have enough rope to climb out. Also, there’s a lot of monsters down here.