Fights don’t always go to the one who attacks first, but hesitating when the enemy is right in front of you was a fantastic method for getting yourself killed in Pillowcase’s experience.
“Wait!” Tessa called out as both her group and the demons in front of her moved to unleash their weapons and spells.
Oblivion’s Daughter was faster than Pillowcase but, to her credit, was also able to check her initial swing the moment Tessa called out.
Rip, Matt, and Starchild had been intending to hold their attacks until given leave to join the fray, but that didn’t stop Rip from letting out a confused “What?” in response.
The demons, who Tessa was certain hadn’t been speaking English when they came into the room, also paused, though in their case that involved pointing their spears at the two nearest targets and bursting into flames.
“Wait,” Pillowcase said aloud, again, for everyone to hear. “We don’t have to fight.”
“Who in Hezzlmin’s Charred Nethers are you then?” Balegritz, the nearest demon asked.
Balegritz was taller than either Pillowcase or Obby and seemed to out mass both of the put together. The flames which burned in his eyes were a soft shade of purple which blended nicely with the nimbus of blue flames which danced around his heavily armored form.
[Bruiser] class, Pillowcase thought. Enhanced toughness and durability with a focus on physical damage. Best slain with non-elemental magic damage. Physical weaknesses include navel, heart, and decapitation. Standard tactical response; hold and allow casters to finish off.
“I’m Pillowcase,” Tessa said, the name feeling at the same time silly and contrived as well as proper and well worn. “Ca you understand me?”
“Course we can understand you,” Hermeziz, the demon on Balegritz’s left, said. “Wait, you speak Nezzparrin?”
Inability to understand one’s enemies is a strategic weakness, Pillowcase said.
Am I omni-lingual now? Tessa asked.
My linguistics threads were designed to render my speech comprehensible to anyone who spoke a language the Consortium had documented. Some concepts may not translate well, and I will not sound like a native speaker in many cases but basic orders are a well tested area.
“We’re not speaking Nezzparrin,” Obby said. “We do have translation magic though.”
We do? Lisa asked. I’m can’t make out anything they’re saying.
It’s part of the [Artifax] lore, Tessa said. I’m guessing Obby picked up some other translation effect somehow.
“What are you doing here then?” Balegritz asked.
“The floor in the farmhouse above this room collapsed,” Obby said, wisely in Tessa’s view omitting the part about their party’s intent to hunt up some demon blood.
“The farmhouse?” Hermeziz asked.
Tessa gestured upwards to the hole in the roof. “Yeah, up there.”
“Flark,” Balegritz said. “That wasn’t there last time.”
“Did you run into any [Chaos Centipedes] lately? There are a few hundred up there on a fast respawn timer,” Pillowcase said.
“[Chaos Centipedes]? That’s were those things are coming from!” Illuthiz, the last demon, said, indignation stoking the green flames around her to noticeably brighter hue.
[Skirmisher] class, Pillowcase noted. Evasive and durable. Primarily a physical damage dealer, but with special movement and status inflicting abilities. Best fought with immobilization techniques. Weak points include legs, eyes, and decapitation. Standard tactical response; constrain and exploit opening if their focus deviates while other front line fighters dispatch.
“Yeah, we’ve seen a few of those things,” Balegritz said. “You don’t look like you fell down the hole though. How long have you been here?”
“A few minutes,” Matt said. “Didn’t you hear me hit the ground? It wasn’t quite.”
Tessa saw the game Matt was playing, trying to turn his earlier mistake to their advantage, but she worried that the demons might have noticed that his fall was a lot quieter than it should have been thanks to the vines Starchild conjured.
“See! I told you I heard something!” Illuthiz said.
“Ok, you’re right,” Balegritz said. “Question is, what do we do with all of them?”
“We could have them climb up those ropes they’ve got there,” Hermeziz said. “How’d you get those setup if you fell?”
It was a reasonable question but the tone Hermeziz asked it in suggested he was feeling anything but reasonable.
“Magic,” Obby said, pointing to the remains of the vines from Starchild’s earlier spell as though that explained everything.
“We were going to check out this place a bit before we left,” Pillowcase said. “It’s not everyday that you fall into a brand new dungeon.”
“It’s not exactly ‘brand new’,” Balegritz said. “We’ve been here for years now. Ever since we crashed on this miserable rock.”
“Crashed?” Tessa asked. “You’re not from here?”
“Do we look like we’re from here?” Balegritz asked.
“Yeah,” Obby said.
“Pretty much,” Matt said.
“You’re not the strangest thing I’ve seen today,” Pillowcase said. “Probably not even in the top five.”
“I know, right?” Obby said. “At least these folks have a sense of style in their armor.”
Tessa thought she saw Balegritz beam at that, but Hermeziz narrowed his eyes while Illuthiz remained as calm and blank faced as Pillowcase was.
“So maybe we have them leave like they were planning to?” Illuthiz asked.
“Sure, that seems smart,” Hermeziz said. “It’s not like they’ll go and tell everyone and everything that we’re here.”
“Would that be a bad thing?” Pillowcase asked.
“Are you new here?” Balegritz asked. “Or have you not noticed that people like you are universally aggressive to people like me?”
How are negotiations going? Lisa asked.
They don’t trust us, Tessa said. Sounds like they think everyone else is universally aggressive towards them.
Decent odds they’re correct, Lisa said.
“There haven’t been many people like me around here until very recently,” Pillowcase said, removing her helmet so the demons could see that they were talking to an [Clothwork] rather than the human Tessa guessed they’d mistaken her for.
“Consortium!” Hermeziz yelled and charged his spear with a nimbus of green flames that Pillowcase instinctively braced against.
[Flames of Avarice]. Reduces healing capacity of the targets. Punctures through basic defenses. Best supplemental defense; destroy wielder before it can be deployed. I hate that stuff.
“Ex-Consortium,” Pillowcase said.
“Ex-Consortium?” Balgritz asking, putting a hand on Hemeziz’s shoulder to delay the impending attack. “How is that possible?”
“I was abandoned after a failed assault,” Pillowcase said. “My new animating force is unconnected to the [Consortium of Pain], and so I am no longer bound to them in any manner.”
“Still programmed for loyalty though I bet,” Hermeziz said.
“No more so than you’re programmed for evil,” Matt said, he’d stepped forward to join Obby and Pillowcase since he was the only other member of their party who could understand the demons.
“That’s an easy claim to make,” Illuthiz said. “Hard to prove though.”
“Not necessarily,” Pillowcase said. “If you have any [Master Enchanters] in your ranks, they should be able to examine my thread weave and see that the command compulsion enchantments are gone. In fact, if you talk to them, they’ll tell you that destruction of a constructs animating enchantment causes a complete erasure of binding spells on them, usually requiring a full recreation ritual to safely bring the construct back online.”
“How do you know we have ranks?” Hermeziz asked.
“Because you look like the people down there,” Matt said, pointing to the back of the room where overlook of the grand hall was.
Pillowcase wanted to put her helmet back on. It was nicer to have her hands free, but since the gesture was likely to heighten the demon’s suspicions, she opted to leave it off.
“Going back to your original point though,” Pillowcase said before the conversation drifted too far from where she wanted it to be. “You’re concerned with keeping this location a secret? It’s understandable, but likely no longer practical. The farmhouse we discovered is swarmed with low level monsters. They’ll draw other adventurers in and if there’s one thing adventurers do, it’s poke their noses into any strange thing they find.”
“Even if they get them bitten off?” Hermeziz said.
“Especially if they get bitten off,” Obby said. “If we disappear here, that’ll create a mystery which other people will definitely follow up on. If more people disappear after that, this will become a hub for higher and higher level players to test themselves against.”
“Also, if you kill us, we won’t have as much reason to be talkative the next time, after we respawn,” Matt said.
“Respawn?” Illuthiz asked.
“Yeah,” Matt said. “You know? How we come back after we die?”
“You do what?” Balegritz asked, though it was clear than all three of the demons were incredulous at the idea.
“When we die, we can come back again,” Matt said. “It just takes a while, especially if we don’t have the stuff to come back right where we fell.”
“You’re lying,” Hermeziz said. “Nobody comes back from being dead. Dead is dead.”
“Not for us,” Pillowcase said. “Though it is seriously inconvenient, so we’re not going to try prove it if you ask.”
Getting back to a [Heart Fire] would be difficult enough, but dodging the [Hounds of Fate] for the whole run might be impossible and Tessa was absolutely not willing to risk any of her new friends on the attempt when diplomacy was a much better answer.
“We could force the issue,” Illuthiz said, her tone light and casual, without the menace her words should have carried.
“You could try,” Obby said.
“But you don’t want to,” Pillowcase quickly added. “Like I said, your base’s location is too close to a village which has become a major land in the last day or so. Dealing with outsiders is going to be a thing whether you like it or not.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Hermeziz said. “If anybody else finds us, they definitely won’t like it.”
“Does it help you to lose members of your troop like that?” Pillowcase asked. “Do you gain anything from an unworkable isolation?”
“Yeah, we do. We stay safe from you and all the other ridiculous monsters out there that want to eat us, or drink our blood, or whatever you sick things do,” Hermeziz said.
Ouch. They’re worried we want to drink their blood, Tessa said to Lisa on their private channel.
Because of me? Lisa asked.
I don’t think so, Tessa said. It was part of a list of exaggerated worries.
Good. I’ll keep my mouth shut then, Lisa said. Hopefully my robes will keep me hidden too. I think they’re big enough that the demons haven’t gotten a good look at me yet.
I’ll be sure to warn them of who and what we all area, Tessa said. They already freaked out a bit when they saw what I was.
They don’t like plushies?
They don’t like the [Consortium of Pain]. Apparently they’ve met Pillowcase’s creators before.
“That’s interesting that we look like monsters to you,” Obby said. “You’re from another world entirely aren’t you?”
“I said we crashed here, didn’t I?” Balegritz said.
“Yes, but you don’t crash here from a world we could see in the sky above this land,” Obby said. “You’re from another reality. And somehow you slipped through to here.”
“I guess?” Balegritz said. “I don’t really know what that means, but I do know that this place is nothing like home. Everything is wrong here. Even the name of it.”
“What’s wrong with the [High Beyond]?” Tessa asked.
“Apart from the otherworlds reverb in your voice when you say those words?” Illuthiz asked.
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Balegriz said. “I mean, this dungeon like you called it. [The Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]? What kind of name is that for a place?”
It was the same name as the dungeon her team had been in when Starchild called for help.
But the developers wouldn’t have named two different dungeons the same thing.
So either they were in truly unwritten territory, or the dungeon they’d fallen into was bigger than any Tessa had heard of before.