The shackles which bound Tessa’s arms and legs were made of tissue paper. A glance over to her side showed that the ones on Lost Alice were no different. With a simple flex, either of them could shatter the effect which was holding them in place, but neither of them did. They both wanted to see what the fool in front of them had to say.
“Does it surprise you?” Mikonnel said. “Certainly you did not come to this place thinking to find the future [Lord] of the [Fallen Kingdoms] standing before you. No, I imagine you are here as desperate rats fleeing the wrath of my allies. Tell me, how many of your kind has the Consortium slain? It must be hundreds by now.”
“You don’t look like part of the Consortium’s [Directorate],” Pillowcase said.
“He’s a local,” Lost Alice said.
Tessa saw that her eyes were riveted on the man who didn’t appear willing to come closer to them despite their apparently helplessness.
“Of course I’m a local,” Mikonnel said. “This world was far too well hidden for the [Consortium of Pain] to discover on their own. Someone need to reach out and invite them in.”
“And in exchange they said they’ll name you the ruler of the world?” Tessa asked.
“They had already given me this world,” Mikonnel said. “I am logged into the Omniversal Registry as the administrator of everything within this sphere and my place in the Consortium’s [Grand Hierarchy] has been secured.”
What’s the Omniversal Registry? Lisa asked.
A lie, Tessa said. The Consortium doesn’t have special book for recording ownership of the worlds they conquer. Officially, the worlds retain their sovereignty. The Consortium exercises control of a world through their ‘contractual agreements’ and those are traded between the portfolios of the upper management in whatever weird games they play.
But the [Grand Hierarchy] is a thing? Lisa asked.
It’s basically the Org Chart for the entire Consortium, Tessa said. Everyone’s got a spot in it and a number, from the [Executive Directorate] down to the [Disposable Interns].
[Disposable Interns]? Seriously?
Yep. It’s to set the right attitude in them from the start.
I guess this is a group that calls themselves the [Consortium of Pain]. What the hell were the devs thinking with that?
According to the Consortium’s internal propaganda, it’s supposed to be in commemoration of their founder, with the overlap of meaning in some languages being “unfortunate”. Tessa said.
“…and that was how I, and I alone, was able to see past the paltry limitations…” Mikonnel was saying when Tessa turned her attention back to him.
If he can contact the Consortium does that mean he has some method of getting off this world? Lisa asked.
Not necessarily, Tessa said. The Consortium is able to pick up all sorts of transmissions. He might not be anything more than the equivalent of a ham radio operator who got lucky. We should find out though.
He’s still talking, Lisa said. This is like a unskippable cutscene.
We are in Hell, technically, Tessa said.
“…and using that knowledge, I was able to show my allies the path to arrive here, and thus they saw my worth and value. Not as some insignificant number or level but as a man of vision and genius. One who they would do well to court and treat as he deserved to be treated,” Mikonnel said.
Oh, the Consortium is definitely going to treat him how he deserves,Tessa said.
“I can’t help but notice that for all your power and importance to the Consortium, you’re hiding in one of the deepest, least accessible holes anywhere in the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Lost Alice said.
“I am not hiding,” Mikonnel said. “I have claimed this place as my [Sanctum].”
“How?” Tessa asked.
“I have gained many things from the Consortium,” Mikonnel said. “Secrets those on this world would consider most unnatural and impossible to believe.”
“It looks like you drew a binding trap on top of the maze over there and then lured the [Servant of Fire] into it,” Lost Alice said.
“How could you trap a boss in their own lair though?” Tessa asked. “It should be able to die and respawn here if that’s the only option for escaping the trap.”
“That creature doesn’t control this place,” Mikonnel said. “It was always an interloper. There were some few creatures here before it, but once it wormed itself in through the cracks at the center of the maze it slew them and tried to claim the area as its own. But I! I was too fast for it!”
Tessa didn’t want to interrupt the rant. Not before they had all the information they needed.
“Just like you, it did not foresee that there might be those with plans beyond its conception,” Mikonnel said.
“It’s bindings seem to be different than ours,” Lost Alice said, her voice clearly different than usual.
Are you okay? Tessa asked.
No, Lisa said. Not at all.
Tessa could here the strain that Lisa had been hiding tearing through her voice. Lost Alice’s external demeanor never wavered though.
“Yes, well, the Consortium has given me many curious and profound abilities,” Mikonnel said. “You are not the equal of a Giant Wyrm of Flame, and so I am practicing..no, experimenting with a lesser effect to bind you to my will.”
He doesn’t know what its name is, Tessa said. What level is he?
His information is hidden, Lost Alice said, probably thanks to a trick his Consortium handlers gave him. He’s not high level though.
How can you tell? Tessa asked.
He smells weak, Lost Alice said. And he wouldn’t need to be high level to use a binding like the one he caught the [Servant of Fire] in. It’s an environmental effect so it’s drawing power from this place instead of from him.
That’s why the shackles on us are so weak then? Because he’s powering them himself.
I believe so, Lost Alice said. What would the Consortium have given him?
As little as they could to protect their investment, Tessa said. Recalling Pillowcase’s memories had grown easier at some point, a fact with Tessa felt a distant sort of concern about.
“But come, rise my new slaves,” Mikonnel said. “You’ve already met my most loyal servants, the [Lava Drinkers]. Show me the same devotion they do and I may grant you the liberty they possess – to hunt those who oppose me within the areas I have designated for you.”
“How do you control the [Lava Drinkers]?” Lost Alice asked. “There’s no sigils drawn on the walls or floors to hold them like there are here.”
“Oh it’s all the same,” Mikonnel said. “They, like the Great Wyrm of Fire, and you, are all bound to my will through the power of my blood. Given freely and transmuted via unimaginable rituals into the most potent of agents to carry my will.”
“Really?” Lost Alice’s eyes burned with an alien light as her lips caressed the word she spoke.
In a blink, Tessa saw the one word which Mikonnel shouldn’t have used, and in a blink it was over.
Rip Shot was terrified out of her mind and it felt good.
“You’re laughing,” Jamal said. “You shouldn’t be laughing.”
“Can’t help it,” Rose said. “This is what Rip Shot was born to do. [Multi-Burst].”
She leaned out from the corner of the building they’d retreated behind and loosed a hail of arrows at the incoming Consortium forces.
The Consortium troops who weren’t obviously inhuman, like the [Metal Mechanoids] and [Clothwork], favored heavy, identity concealing armor. It made shooting them so much easier. For all Rose knew the things inside the armor were squids made out of mucus and toenails.
Unfortunately, they were well protected mucus toenail squids if so.
“Did that drop any?” Rose asked.
“Nope. Slowed them down though,” Jamal said as he cast a [Torment] spell on them.
Half of [Sky’s Edge] had been overrun but Rose, Jamal, and a few of the defenders were fighting a more successful delaying action than she’d thought would be possible.
To be fair, the arrival of Lady Midnight and Starchild had proven to be a crucial part of that, their healing abilities keeping the other defenders on their feet far longer than they would have managed on their own.
“Here, this might be of some help,” Mister Pendant said, passing Rip Shot a case of vials.
He was the other reason they’d survived as long as they had. Rose had always thought of NPC shop keepers as little more than window dressing but in this version of the [Forgotten Kingdoms] it turned out that destroying one of their stores left the shop keeper in question more than a little annoyed and entirely willing to disperse his best supplies for free.
Rose had gone through a half dozen of Pendant’s healing potions already and was enjoying the permanent swiftness bonus one of Pendant’s enchantments had given to her bow. The vials were something new though.
“[Oil of Dragon’s Breath]?” she asked, not sure if she was supposed to drink the vial’s contents or throw it at the oncoming troops.
“Yes. For your arrows,” Pendant said. “Be sure to fire those at distant targets though.”
“Do you have any more mana potions?” Jamal asked.
“Yes, and let me draw this on you,” Pendant said, producing a a pen with a tip that glowed like burning steel.
“What’s that going to do?” Jamal asked.
“Give you more magic,” Pendant said. “Normally you could not carry this enchantment, but that is because a normal enchanter does not have my skill.”
“How long will it take?” Rose asked.
“I need one minute,” Pendant said. “No, half that. Now sit still.”
“It’s up to us to keep up the pressure then,” Kammie Anne Do said.
Rose was astounded at how well the players were working together. Something about having a specific enemy to point their efforts toward had given them all the focus and cooperative spirit that they needed.
“See if you can hold our flank down that road,” Rose said. “I’ll get to the roof and make sure they don’t try to dive bomb us again.”
“Sounds good,” Kammie said.
Rose had never done drugs, and after this she was certain she would never need to. Having people listen to her? Having them respect what she said? And follow her plans? In the middle of a crisis when it really mattered? Her body tingled from the tip of her toes to the top of her head. There wasn’t a drug in existence that could match the feeling.
“Stay within line of sight though!” Lady Midnight called out. “I can’t heal you if you go too far.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Rose said. “Stay safe. I’ll come back for healing. We can’t afford to lose you.”
“We can’t afford to lose any of us,” Pete said through Starchild’s voice.
“I thought the plan was we were going to lose all of us and then ghost run off to a hiding spot?” Battler X asked.
“New plan,” Rose said. “Let’s try to survive this. It may not be permanent but dying still sucks.”
“They’re getting more troops into the town every minute,” Battler X said.
“All we need to do is fall back quick enough and buy ourselves room to escape. [Flame Shot],” Rose said, launching an arrow that she’d dipped into the [Oil of Dragon’s Breath].
The fireball blew her off the top of the building she’d climbed up.
It also flattened the building near the person she’d fired at, as well as caved in most of the two buildings to either side.
Jamal was up and caught her before Rose could hit the ground.
“Nice [Flame Shot],” he said.
“As I said, fire those at distant targets only,” Pendant said.
“Ok, forget about falling back then,” Rose said. “If you’ve got more stuff like that, we can push them back instead!”
“They’ve got a lot more troops than that though,” Jamal said.
“If we can push them back far enough it won’t matter,” Rose said.
“No, I mean they have more troops from the ship that came in. We should have seen them already unless they’re hanging back.”
“Why would they…” Rose trailed off as the same thought occurred to both her and Jamal.
Breathless they turned their gaze to the south.
One thing about having [Tabbywile Eyes] was that they could make out details at far greater distances than Rose’s human eyes could. Details like the army which had landed well south of [Sky’s Edge] and was marching to catch the town’s remaining defenders in a classic pincer move.