Rose wasn’t the team’s leader. No one had elected her and no one would listen to her. Why should they? She was just a noob. Just a low level nobody who was brand new to the world of [Broken Horizons]. Just a kid.
“We’ve gotta get in there.” She didn’t wait to see if anyone would follow her. She knew Jamal would and if the rest did too that would be great, but the call she felt was too strong to be ignored.
The teleport effect had dropped her party on the western side of [Sky’s Edge], where the land began to turn to barren, blasted hills before jutting upwards into the broken mountains which rose so far over head. The remnants of a mystic circle remained at the landing site, fragments of obsidian which crackled with rainbow lightning. If there’d once been a control system it had long since been scavenged or rotted away but the bank of the low hill which separated them from the town was drawn in an even enough curve that it could have been manufactured to contain the circle’s energies.
Rip was up and over the hill before she heard the first response to her declaration.
“What’s our priority here?” Lady Midnight asked.
“We need to get the townsfolk and the adventurers out,” Rose said, speaking as Rip Shot. Or maybe it was Rip who said it? Rose didn’t have the time to pay attention to the divisions in her psyche, but the urge to save people and the calm focus which swept over her felt like they came from a place of experience.
“It looks like the Consortium portaled troops down to the north of the city,” Obby said. “They’re marching down the road now.”
“Why weren’t they portaled directly into the city?” Starchild asked as they reached the outskirts of [Sky’s Edge].
“They’re using [A7 Transports] for this assault,” Jamal said as Matt. “Those can only open portals slowly, so they have to open them far enough away that the defenders can’t wreck them or set an ambush.”
“How can you tell that?” Illuthiz asked.
“I can see them,” Jamal said, and pointed up to an open patch of sky. “They’re up there, well out of range of standard planetary defense systems.”
Rip reached the back of Mister Pendant’s shop and glanced around quickly, taking in the crowd of people who were racing around in the small town. Glancing up, all she could see in the sky above were stars.
Apparently I’ve got telescopic vision now too, Jamal said on their private channel when he saw her searching for the ships.
Good, if you wind up with any other super powers, use ‘em all, Rose said.
Are we going to fight? Jamal asked.
Yeah, Rip said, experiences Rose had never lived again guiding her. The people here are never going to get out on time and we need to make sure the attackers don’t feel like they’re free to wander away and hunt down the refugees.
Fighting these guys one on one is going to be a challenge and the Consortium will have sent at least a platoon to take this place, Matt said, or Rose guessed it was Matt since she heard the same certainty in Jamal’s voice that she felt from Rip.
If we need to ghost run, we ghost run to the ruins we cleared out, Rip said.
It wasn’t the plan Rose wanted to go with. By preference she would have run to the farm house, but Rip knew that if (or when) they were forced back into a ghostly state they wouldn’t be alone, and if the still breathing people were panicked, she couldn’t imagine their ghosts being any calmer. Especially not with the [Hounds of Fate] nipping at their heels.
In the central square of the town, Rose saw a pair of familiar faces.
“Aiemethia! Zibby!” she called out, getting the attention of the two older players.
“Rip Shot? Matt Painting? What are you two doing here?” Aiemethia asked.
“We need to evacuate the town,” Rose said. “You’ve got an army of Consortium troops coming from the north.”
“Yeah, we’ve seen them,” Aiemethia said. “The first wave of scouts were already through here.”
He gestured to the numerous fires which were burning around the town.
“How tough were they?” Lady Midnight asked.
“Don’t know,” Aiemethia said. “They didn’t stay around long enough for anyone to land a hit on them.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re weak,” Matt said. “A disruptive sorte like that is meant to breed confusion and chaos. From a profit perspective, the scouts are under orders to return without damage to keep the cost of operation as low as possible.”
“That’s not going to make evacuating people any easier,” Starchild said.
“Then we need to get started now!” Rip said. “Aie, Zibby, can you two help with that?”
“Sure, where are we supposed to evac to though?” Aiemethia asked.
“We cleared part of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]. It’s got a [Heart Fire] that should still be set for for our use,” Rip said.
“We’re taking the kids and level 1’s here into a dungeon?” Zibby asked.
“It’s got multiple exits,” Rip said. “If the Consortium tries to chase us in there, we can flee and sic the mobs we haven’t taken care of on them.”
Zibby sighed. “It’s probably better than putting them up against trained soldiers. Come on, let’s get the kids moving.”
She pulled Aiemethia away towards one of the buildings which was no longer on fire. From the clatter inside it, Rose guessed that it was where the various “young” players had been gathered.
She winced at that. A lot of people probably would have considered her and Jamal “young players”, but after adventuring with Pillowcase and Alice, she couldn’t think of herself like that anymore.
“How long till the Consortium’s forces are here?” she asked.
“No more than a couple of minutes,” Matt said. “They’ll send a sacrificial force in first to probe our defenses and inflict whatever casualties surprise aggression can get them.”
“Then we need to ready for them when they get here,” Rip said. “And we need to get everyone else out by then. Spread out and tell people to run south. We can collect them on the farside of town and cut southwest to stay away from the troops.”
No one argued, and in the press of the moment, Rose didn’t find that surprising. It wasn’t until she found herself running to the hastily assembled barricades to the north with Jamal by her side that she noticed everyone except him had followed her orders.
We need talk to everyone into leaving, she said.
Yeah, that includes the adventurers at the barricade, Jamal said.
I can handle them, Rose said.
I know you can, Jamal said. I just don’t want to get separated in the fighting.
I was kind of hoping you’d lead the others away.
And leave you alone against the Consortium? Yeah, that’s not happening. If we have to ghost run to the [Heart Fire] then we’re ghost running together.
I love you, Rose said.
Same to you, Jamal said.
When we get out of this, I’ve got to find a nice girl to hook you up with.
I am all in favor of you playing wingman for me, but I’m betting we’re going to have bigger problems for a while than finding me a date.
Aren’t battlefield hookups a thing? Rose asked.
That’s taking the whole “enemies to lovers” thing a little far isn’t it?
Before Rose could respond, one of the adventurers on the barricades hailed them.
“Hey guys! Reinforcements are here!” Kammie Anne Do shouted.
The seven other people crouched behind the ramshackle pile of carts and broken housing materials looked up, evaluating Rip and Matt with eyes filled with the shards of shattered hopes.
“We’re not,” Rip said. “We’re here to get you out, not to beat back the Consortium.”
“What do you mean?” Battler X asked. “Where can we go?”
“There’s a dungeon area that our team cleared out,” Rip said. “We can retreat to there. It’s much more defensible than this town is.”
“We can’t go into the dungeons around here!” Battler X said. “They’re filled with high level monsters! We’ll get slaughtered and have to come back here anyways.”
“There’s a [Heart Fire] in the dungeon we’re taking you to,” Rip said. “We can respawn there if we need.”
“And the monsters aren’t that bad,” Matt said. “We took on the area we’re going to lead you to with a party of four and made it through to one of the mini-bosses.”
“We’ll never get away though,” Battler X said.
“Not anymore! They’re here!” Kammie said, pointing up the road to where it rose to the top of a hill.
The [Clothworks] in the Consortium’s advance force moved like wraiths, silent except for the unearthly scream of their [Battlecry].
Rose felt a chill spread through her, freezing her down to the marrow of her bones.
“It’s a debuff,” Matt said. “Cleanse it off if you can.”
“[Multishot],” Rip called out. She could feel the debuff disrupting her aim but she loosed her shot anyways, striking two of the oncoming [Clothworks].
Around her the other defenders struggled to respond. Some had collapsed to the road, their strength completely stolen away by the [Battlecry]. Others, like Matt, seemed to be able to shake it off better than Rip had.
“[Casting spell: Lesser Spectral Wounds].” Matt’s spell hit the lead [Clothwork] with enough force to send the [Soldier] tumbling face first into the dirt.
“[Flame Shot].” Rip didn’t waste the opportunity Matt had opened for her, pin cushioning the [Clothwork] to the ground through the head before it could rise.
Rather than dropping still though, the enemy twitched and writhed, agony screaming through each of its movements.
The spectacle distracted Rip enough that when her shoulder blossomed into a sea of pain and fire, she was at a loss for what could have happened.
“What the hell are those!” Battler X hit the ground next to her.
“[Plasma lancers],” Matt said. “We need better cover or more mobility.”
Around them, bolts of light were blasting the barricade into explosive and flaming fragments.
“Go mobile,” Rose said. “I’ll hold them back.”
“You’re down to critical health,” Matt said.
“Not for long,” Lady Midnight said. “[Casting spell: Minor Blood Channel]”
“We got the others on the move,” Starchild said. “Obby is leading them away.”
“How do we get out of here?” Kammie asked.
“As ghosts,” Rip said. “We’ve got to buy them time. Wait, are you still playing from Earth?”
“No,” Battler X said. “We all got killed in the first dungeon we tried.”
“Good,” Rip said, rising back to her feet and peering over the wall of vines Starchild was repeatedly conjuring to reinforce the remnants of the barricades. “We can buy time for the people who aren’t trapped here yet then.”
The [Plasma Lancers] were shredding Starchild’s conjured vines but the concealment they provided let Rip, Matt, and Kammie send back a continuous volley of return fire. More [Battlecries] rang out from the [Clothwork] but Rose felt Rip’s determination rise inside her. Elven hearts touched on eternity, and no supernaturally induced fear was going to sap her strength.
“How the escape going?” she asked on the party channel, without taking her eyes off the incoming advanced force.
“We’re still in town but I think we have everyone,” Obby said. “Some of the adventurers managed to pick up a few levels too. I’ve got them on the flanks to watch for monster attacks.”
“Good. We’ll catch up to you as soon as there’s an opening for us to flee,” Rip said.
“I’d tell you to stay safe, but that’s be a waste wouldn’t it?” Obby asked.
“I don’t think we’ve been in the same zip code as safety in a long time,” Rose said.
“Give ‘em hell then! And Rose, if you ever need me, just give a yell. My real name’s Way, and if you ever call for help, I’ll be there.”