Broken Horizons – Vol 4, Ch 14

Obsidian shatters. When a mace is swung with sufficient force it doesn’t dent obsidian armor. Instead, like a pain of glass, the plates of armor which make up a [Lava Drinker’s] body will explode. Pillowcase found that to be vaguely satisfying. 

What was less pleasing was how the creature’s molten innards clung to the mace’s head as Pillowcase drew the weapon back to fend off another attacker. Target rich environments had their advantages but getting your weapon bound up by one attacker could fatal when you had dozens more around you.

Dozens in total but we only have six foes left in front of us. Tessa felt herself dissociating. It wasn’t against her will though. It was more a matter of stepping back and allowing her instincts and Pillowcase’s inborn experience to handle the moment to moment details of the fight she was engaged in. That left her free to evaluate the battle dispassionately, noting and tracking the number, position and strength of their foes.

Unfortunately the values she had for those were “too many”, “everywhere” and “possibly more than she could handle”.

A [Lava Drinker] jumped over the corpse of its comrade as Pillowcase struggled to hold off another one which had tried to drop from the ceiling onto her. 

She whirled a full power blow with the mace at the new arrivals sparsely defended underside, but three of its feet brushed the blow aside.

On Tessa’s tactical display the [Lava Drinker’s] health dropped only a smidge, The abdomen was a sensitive spot for [Lava Drinkers] – the same as it was on humans – but the creature’s defense had been enough to deflect most of Tessa’s swing.

Its counterattack came with such speed that Pillowcase was only able to avoid it because Tessa had given her “warrior spirit” free rein move as she needed to stay safe.

Well, almost free rein.

Keeping Lisa safe was a higher priority than saving herself.

Tessa didn’t stop to think about that.

There wasn’t time to wonder if she was stepping over a line, or allowing her feelings to taint her reasoning.

A [Lava Drinker] bit into her leg and her health plummeted.

“[Heart Killer’s Curse]”, Pillowcase called, targeting the one which was trying to tear her leg off. The ability lashed out at the monster, ripping back some of the health the creature had stolen from Pillowcase. The ability couldn’t save her life by itself, but it offset enough of the damage that Alice’s health spell was able to repair the rest.

Until another [Lava Drinker] sank its fangs into Pillowcase’s  weapon arm.

They’re level 12. Tessa observed. And Minion class.

It was good news. 

It didn’t mean she or Alice were going to survive though. 

That would have been wildly incredible news. 

Instead it meant that the area they’d fallen into was mirroring the sort of level design the [Broken Horizons] devs typically followed. With level 12 for common mobs like the [Lava Drinkers], it was plausible that a group who’d started at the abandoned farm house and worked their way down through portion of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave] which lay beneath it would be capable of taking on the challenges in this next area they could reach.

Pillowcase adjusted her stance, stepping forward into the jaws of a [Lava Drinker] and using her shield to drive it into the bone floor. Another approached but it failed to land a blow before she hammered it back with blow after blow from her mace.

“Another patrol’s incoming!” Lisa called out.

That made five total groups of monsters which had gathered on them.

“Follow me,” Pillowcase said, her voice flat and uninflected. It wasn’t an order as much as a tactical advisement. If Lost Alice chose to do something else, Pillowcase would assume it was because Alice was had noticed something Tessa had missed. Or was pursuing an alternate goal as sometimes happened in battle.

There were too many [Lava Drinkers] for them to fight, and no option of out running the monsters, but that didn’t mean moving away was a lost cause.

Redoubling her offensive cost Pillowcase. Her health dropped into the critical range and stayed there for an agonizing second and a half. Almost an eternity in battle. What her pain bought them however was the position Pillowcase needed.

By slamming one [Lava Drinker] into the wall and crushing another one under her boot, Pillowcase was able to open a path for Alice and herself to step through to the far side of the growing [Lava Drinker] hoard.

Tactical advantage achieved, Pillowcase noted internally, her emotionless voice nonetheless singing with triumph.

“[Casting spell: Counter Death]”, Alice said, wrapping Pillowcase in a protective barrier before racing as far down the tunnel as she could while remaining in spell casting range. 

Pillowcase switched back to a fully defensive stance, giving ground to every attack the horde threw at her. With the corridor clogged with [Lava Drinkers], the ones in the back tried scuttling up the walls and onto the ceiling. Their pounce attacks required Pillowcase to brace carefully, but as long as she was ready for them, the damage was greatly reduced by her shield and the [Lava Drinkers] were easily hurled back into the horde which had gathered, tripping up their fellows and preventing a surge of such attacks from literally burying Pillowcase in enemies.

“[Casting spell: Minor Blood Channel],” Lisa chanted and added, “I don’t think this corridor is going back to the entrance.”

While she was casting her best healing spell, Lost Alice couldn’t move, but she’d run back far enough that Pillowcase’s fighting retreat allowed plenty of time for the healing spell to repair her injuries. They weren’t defeating the [Lava Drinkers] fast enough to win the battle, but they were facing off against superior foes and surviving for far longer than they should have been able to. Despite the terror of an impending death by devouring lava bugs, Tessa felt a fierce surge of pride at the victory each additional second represented.

She wondered if she was losing her mind, but since each moment of survival meant more of the dungeon mapped for later use, Pillowcase found the prospect of inevitably being overrun by the [Lava Drinkers] acceptable. 

When they returned with the rest of their party, the contest would have a very different outcome.

“All of the halls are curving,” Tessa said. “When I try to picture this place in my head it feels like a weird, distorted spider web?”

“And all paths lead towards the big monster in the center. Yeah that fits,” Lisa said.

“Let’s see if we can hang on long enough to find out what it is,” Tessa said.

“The boss has got to be some kind of major flame monster,” Lisa said. “These things are fire based, but they couldn’t have taken out the dead people we’ve seen. Not that quick at least.”

Pillowcase noted that the temperature around them was rising, the further they followed the tunnel.

“We’re definitely heading inwards,” Tessa said. “We could try for another branch?”

“Let’s follow this in to the center,” Lisa said. “The bosses are usually the worst part of these dungeons. If we can get a sense of what its basic attacks are like we’ll know we’ll be up against next time.”

“I’m game,” Tessa said. With her shield, Pillowcase caught a thin stream of a super heated substance which was probably supposed to look like lava despite the two sharing no actual physical properties beyond being exceptionally hot.

With a quick shake of her arm, Pillowcase splashed the liquid material from the shield onto one of the [Lava Drinkers], who ignored its presence.

Ok. Obsidian doesn’t burn, Tessa observed. It wasn’t surprising to find fireproof creatures in the [Sunless Deeps]. Anything which regularly encountered lava and thermal vents tended to live longer if temperature extremes didn’t bother it.

Pillowcase parried, blocked, and fell back further and further as Tessa pondered their best plan of action.

A flight back to the entrance as ghosts would allow them to use the column of falling lava as the teleporter it was so obviously meant to be. Getting back to the demon’s lair wasn’t the end of their troubles though. They would still need to find a [Heart Fire] before the [Hounds of Fate] caught them.

She was blocking out the idea that the hounds might trap them inside the corridors she was fighting in. There was no good answer for that and Pillowcase, at least, was built with enough wisdom to know insolvable problems weren’t worth any worries when there were plenty of others to work on.

Also, maneuvering down the hallway was an exercise in brutality, which was more than enough to keep Tessa was spiraling too far into herself.

Each time she got close to Alice, Alice would break her healing spell and race away before resuming the cast. Those second while Alice ran to max range demanded that Pillowcase react to every attack and have all of her own healing working to offset the endless sea of stabs and burns the skittering bugs assaulted her with. 

“I am so glad you followed me,” Tessa said, as Alice planted her feet and resumed her healing spell. “Which is horrible and selfish, I know.”

“Horrible and selfish was coming down here alone in the first place,” Lisa said. “I’m just glad you didn’t run into trouble before I got here. I was afraid I was going to find Pillowcase torn about and your ghost being gobbled up by the death puppies.”

 “Would have served me right, I suppose,” Tessa said.

“Don’t say that,” Lisa said. “Just. Don’t.”

“Ok,” Tessa said. “Bad time to joke about getting eaten. Though, listen, when I drop run. Don’t try to save me. I know it probably won’t help, but who knows what kind of stuff is down here. Maybe you’ll find something that can eat them for you.”

“Don’t think I’m going to have that chance,” Lisa said. “Those things are pretty fast. Also, unrelated note, I’m running really low on mana.”

“These damn corridors are endless,” Tessa grumbled. “If we can just make it to one more interesting spot we can call it quits and death run back.”

“We’ve got another intersection behind us,” Lisa said. “Or, wait? It might be more than an intersection.”

“Are we at the boss room?” Tessa asked, hope flaring within her that they’d found something truly important in their mapping run.

“I can’t tell from here,” Lisa said. “The lighting’s different in there though and its a lot hotter here than it was where you’re standing. And, wait, I’m getting a call.”

Pillowcase wasn’t sure that waiting was much of an option. The [Lava Drinkers] were driving her back no matter how hard she tried to hold the line against them. Her choices were mostly around how much damage she was willing to suffer to keep the pace slow and and how thin a buffer of health she was willing to risk fighting with.

“The next time we move, go ahead and run out of casting range,” Tessa said after a moment. “I’ll hold out for as long as I can so you’ll have time to make it there and find out what we’ve got to work with.”

“I’m not letting you die,” Lisa said, a new urgency gripping her voice..

“You’re almost out of mana,” Tessa said. “You’re not letting me die. This is the two of us spending our resources as best we can.”

“You’re not a resource! Let me worry about my mana.”

“It’ll be ok,” Tessa said.

“We don’t know that!” Lisa said. “Cease All just called me. The players in the regular zones are getting slaughtered. The Consortium is attacking everywhere! She says they lost Novalux and Grin-Dy. Lost as in their ghosts are gone too. The hounds are getting them all!”

The grief in Lisa’s voice cut through Tessa worse than any of the [Lava Drinkers] had managed too.

“Ok,” she said. “Then we stay together. And we make it out of here. Together.”

“Together.” Lisa echoed, with an iron resolve Tessa wasn’t entirely sure was her own.

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