Tessa had a vampire clinging to her neck and a giant monster of lava beneath her. A ruin towned lay around her, the screams of the dying filled her ears, and everything was on fire. All things considered, her day wasn’t going too badly.
“Pillowcase? What the…how the…what the?” Rip’s babbling was at least more than any of the other adventurers in [Sky’s Edge] were able to manage.
“This is our stop Darren!” Pillowcase said. “We’ll get all the non-Consortium folks out of the area so you can let loose.”
“EXCELLENT. COME VISIT LATER,” the enormous [Servant of Fire] named Darren said. “AND PERHAPS BRING A MOP.”
“We’ll see you soon,” Alice said. “And we’ll get your labyrinth cleaned up. Sorry about the mess I left.”
“I ONLY WISH IT HAD BEEN LARGER AND THAT MY CAPTOR HAD SUFFERED LONGER,” Darren said.
“Stay safe!” Tessa said as she gathered Lost Alice in her arms and leapt from the top of the [Servant of Fire]’s head to land in the huddled crowd of adventurers. “Hi folks, got any objections to leaving,” she glanced over as Darren swept down onto the advanced [Ground Claimers] and melted them to slag, “Like now?”
“No, nope, not at all,” Kammie said.
“Leaving sounds like a great idea to me too!” Battler X said.
Lady Midnight, Starchild, Matt, and Rip didn’t even bother responding. They just got moving.
“You owe us a story later,” Rip said as the assembled party ran for one of the holes that had formed in the Consortium’s ranks.
“Good job bringing her back to us,” Matt said to Alice.
“Yeah!” Rip said and then did a quick double take. “Should I ask why you’re covered in blood?”
“Probably not,” Alice said but her smile had a bit of a feral gleam that dared for the question to be asked anyways.
Despite the devastation Darren-the-living-lava-river was causing, some of the Consortium’s forces remained alert enough to notice the adventurers’ attempted escape.
Pillowcase’s shield snapped into place , blocking a barrage of shots targeted on Alice before anyone else noticed they were under attack.
“[Plasma Lancers]! Everybody down!” Tessa shouted, of course not taking her own advice. She instead relied on the enchantment on her shield to allow it to withstand the super heated bolts of energy the Consortium soldiers were firing at her.
A part of her considered the physics involved and how the heat from the bolts should have eventually turned her shield to slag. With magic in the mix though, physics was left to whimper over in a corner by itself.
“Nope. We gotta leave,” Rip said and knocked an arrow. To her credit she did use Pillowcase as partial cover, though she didn’t warn her newly arrived teammates of what was to follow. “[Flame Shot].”
The explosion was mostly channelled away from them, again thanks to the physics-defying effects of the [Oil of Dragon’s Breath]’s enchantments. ‘Mostly’ was not the same as ‘completely’ though and the blastwave which hit them easily knocked the party off their feet, except for Alice and Rip who were both nimble enough that they landed gracefully and remained standing. Where they’d been blown back though, the Consortium squad had been been blown away. Visible particles of dust remained of them but that was about all.
“That was not a [Flame Shot]!” Tessa objected as she picked herself up and scanned for any remaining threats..
“Mister Pendant gave me a little something extra,” Rip said. “Watch out!’
Her warning was enough for Pillowcase to get her shield in place against a crushing mace blow which hit with far more damaging potential than the plasma lances had.
“Rogue [Clothwork] Unit, [Command Override: Shutdown],” the enemy [Clothwork] said as she identified Pillowcase.
Tessa felt a jolt run through Pillowcase but when it tried to cross into the uniquely “Tessa” parts of their shared consciousness, Tessa shook command off like it was no more than a rude comment.
The temptation to taunt the enemy was powerful. The temptation to give an enemy as little information as possible was stronger though and so Tessa used the small moment when the command should have processed and the opening it held to put a boot into the enemy [Clothwork]’s chest.
She’s dangerous.Tessa didn’t feel the same divide between herself and Pillowcase that had been there before. She could move as Pillowcase and Pillowcase had her insights into the world. The evaluation of the soldier before them could have come from either side but the suggestion that followed was somehow the clearest combination of both their perspectives that they’d yet experienced. I should save her.
“That got the attention back on us,” Matt said. “We should keep running.”
“Yes! Go!” Tessa said. ”I’ll deal with her.”
“We’ll deal with her,” Alice said, magic flaring in her hands.
Tessa considered the battlefield before her. There were a lot of dead Consortium troops. There was a giant lava serpent wrecking havoc on the ones that remained. The [Clothwork] in front of her was a [Defense] model, the same as Pillowcase had been, but she wasn’t unique or special.
Except they all were.
All of the Consortium’s [Artifax] were individuals, despite being stamped into identical molds and wrapped in bonds of conformity.
If I could break her control threads, she’d be free.
The enemy [Clothwork] spun low, forcing Pillowcase to dodge back and allow her enemy to kick back up to her feet.
A searing beam of purple-pink energy screamed past Tessa’s shoulder, but the Consortium soldier deflected it with her shield.
“I’ll keep her pinned, attack her from the other side,” Matt said as he continued to fire the stream of arcane energy from his staff.
This isn’t right. We shouldn’t be killing slaves! The thought was a chilling one but the crushing barrage of blows as the enemy stepped in to keep Pillowcase between herself and the rest of Tessa’s team left Tessa no time to reflect on it.
Can’t do the best thing now. Gotta survive. Tessa thought as she matched her enemy blow for blow.
Their fight lasted only a moment longer. Tessa saw the exact second when the order to retreat arrived, carried on a channel Pillowcase no longer had access to since being abandoned by the Consortium.
One moment she and her opposite number were wailing away on each other, vying for the better tactical position and the next the enemy [Clothwork] was leaping backwards dozens of yards, evading the fire sent in her direction by the other members of Tessa’s team.
“We’ll meet again.” The enemy [Clothwork] hadn’t said those words. There wasn’t time for her to have, but they still echoed inside Tessa’s mind.
Glimmerglass felt the teleportation effect take hold and hurl her across thousands of miles, out into the abyss of the night, to land on an enemy warship.
And right in the middle of their arrival she felt another sensation.
As the transport bay of the [Field Carrier] [ABP77G-K-71-CA512] came into view, Glimmerglass felt crimson bands of force bind around her throat, arms, and legs, rendering her completely immobile and helpless.
With even words denied to her by the globe of silence that formed around her head, she was left with nothing more than casting a plea from her heart for salvation out into the cosmos.
Azma watched as the lead ships in her carefully assembled fleet came under the most chaotic of attacks.
“We have reports of spatial breeches on all of the forward ships which are approaching bombardment range of the planetary surface,” [Comms Officer] Clarisse, reported in the dispassionate tone it usually took new comms personnel at least a few invasions to get down.
“Excellent. Forward all of the security reports to my station. No aggregation delay,” Azma said.
Opening a new market (i.e. invading a new world) was usually a chaotic enough affair that [Commanders] preferred to work primarily off briefs assembled once all the relevant parties had reported in. It wasn’t a sign of laziness. The most important aspect to making command decisions was to distill the data from the various battles into information which showed the full scope of the conflict. Getting bogged down in the moment to moment details and trying to micromanage an entire war was a proven recipe for missing vital intelligence in a torrent of trivia.
A wise [Commander] knew to rely on the assistance of the people who were there to coordinate things on a fine scale. Conflicts weren’t won by single individuals, no matter how surpassing of all others their greatness was, but rather by the ordinary greatness of everyone within a command structure, from the lowliest grunts who executed to simplest of orders to the analysts closest to the central command.
Harness that to the proper yoke and all the worlds you ever desire will be yours for the taking, Azma wistfully reminded herself, as the security reports began to stream in from the forward ships in her fleet.
Her analysts were combing through them as well, concentrating the data into clear and succinct summaries, which Azma would also review. She wasn’t trying to do their jobs for them after all. To the extent that she’d reviewed their past work, or knew who had trained them, she trusted the output they provided her.
The security reports which filled the screens on her station weren’t for second guessing her analysts, or for micro-managing her security teams. They were for her enjoyment.
It was something too many of her colleagues missed.
True, grand conflicts like the one below her were as deadly serious as it was possible to get. Well, short of a personal feud. Within the bounds of the current campaign, Azma had a wide degree of freedom to be merciful and reasonable, should either of those approaches be desirable. When one of her coworkers (and it was always a coworker) made things personal though? For those unlucky sinners, there could be no mercy and no reason. The [Consortium of Pain] was not an organization where insults of a sufficiently personal nature could be allowed to go unanswered, and the answer always had to be overwhelming, lest she be tainted by the hint of weakness. Sometimes one gruesomely spectacular punishment could save the lives of so many other slightly wiser coworkers.
Outside of such dire circumstances as intra-office squabbles though, there was always room to enjoy a project’s successes. In fact, reveling in them did more for morale than any course of beatings or dispersal of gift coupons to the underlings could ever manage.
“It looks like the teams who worked on the [Stasis Webs] are due some significant commendations,” she said, fully intending that the nearby bridge crew should overhear her musings. After the battle, word would leak out of her appreciation well in advance of any official recognition, bolstering morale not only for the security teams but for everyone who had done their jobs well since they would all have the impression that their efforts were being observed and recognized.
For Azma, the joy came not only from the delayed sense that her organization would work a little more smoothly and her people perform at a slightly higher level. Those were nice, but more immediately she had the joy of envisioning the effect of the [Stasis Webs] with a wealth of detail to paint clear and lovely pictures in her mind’s eye.
It had been so easy to bait her enemies into attacking her.
They’d held back surprises, because of course they’d held back something in the hopes of unleashing their best efforts when a target was in sight where their best would do the most good. Azma was sure they had stepped across the starless void between their world and her vessels intent on raining an unimaginable amount of destruction upon her.
But they’d been caught.
Full body paralysis generators and the best communication jamming techniques the Consortium had access to. So rare for those to be installed on an invasion ship and yet such a wonderful payoff in test subjects they’d provided.
Azma could picture her opponents squirrming, everything but their minds frozen so that they were as completely aware of their plight as they were helpless to remedy it.
Brendan Reingold stared at his screen in horror. He couldn’t imagine a worse outcome. Mellisandra was motionless in front of him. The raid had failed.
“Brendan! Can you still hear me?” Mellisandra asked, her voice reaching through Brendan’s headphones like a lightning bolt.
“Good!” She didn’t seem anywhere near as overwhelmed by the terror of the moment as he was. “What kind of mezz did they hit us with?”
Brendan blinked. Everyone was frozen on his screen, but, as he looked at the background he saw the machinery behind them was still rolling and oscillating and pistoning as normal.
The game wasn’t frozen. It was just the raiders.
“It’s a new icon,” Brendan said, looking at the system display. “No time limit given, but the info on it says it’s a ‘Deep Paralysis’ effect? Wait, isn’t that what King Noggrad used in the Unhallowed Halls raid?”
Brendan heard Mellisandra’s laughter ring out with a gleeful tone.
“Yes. Yes it is.”
“You’ve still got the Eternal Warmth counter charms for that right?” he asked, unsure in the moment how a raid he hadn’t run in two years had turned out the last time he played through it.
“I do. Just like everyone who beat [King Noggrad] does. Give me a second to invoke it and then be ready to help me move and cast like never before ok?”