Kamie had died more in the last hour that she usually died in a month of raiding. On any other day, she would have taken the hint and given up long ago. Raids were won through perseverance, but mindlessly throwing yourself into a meat grinder only got you so far. Sometimes you just had to back away.
And sometimes you couldn’t.
Sometimes the fights actually mattered.
“I’ve got another Consortium group heading in through the boss room,” Grail Force said. “Do we run now or keep going?”
“We’ll be back in less than a minute,” Kamie said. “We’ve got to hold here until Aie and Zibby can clear out the the inner boss room.”
The boss chambers, it turned out, were level capped areas. No one had noticed that before the Consortium had shown up because none of the adventurers were high enough level to be effected by the cap, but the effect became staggeringly apparent when the Consortium troops who were previously obliterating them with single shots, suddenly began doing far less damage while also being far more fragile.
Not that weakness or fragility stopped the Consortium’s force. They weren’t allowed anything close to that level of self determination after all.
“Then we can fall back there and keep doing this with some new scenery,” Battle X said.
The kill zone, which only Grail Force was holding at the moment, had been the lair of one of the dungeon’s lowest level bosses, a giant spider with a simply mechanic of spawning more spiders if the eggs around it weren’t destroyed before it lost half its health.
Kamie’s team had fought to keep a Consortium’s squad from entering the dungeon and accomplished nothing but repeated trips to the [Heart Fire] as the squad advanced relentlessly forward. Trying to ambush the squad inside the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave] had been a last ditch idea, adopted as much because they had no real choice in the matter as out of any real hope of it working. The moment they’d seem their attacks having an actual effect on their targets had reinvigorated everyone though and gave rise to the hope that they’d be able to at least delay the oncoming assault long enough for the people of [Sky’s Edge] who’d fled to the [Stone Refuge] to find a new stronghold somewhere deeper in the dungeon.
“The Consortium’s got to stop coming sooner or later though, right?” Grail asked.
“They’ve got a ridiculous number of troops out there,” Buzz Fightyear said. “If we keeping beating their patrols they’re going to get serious and send in a real force. One we can’t handle, even with a level cap in play.”
“If we let this patrol through though they’ll slaughter the townsfolk and the lowbie adventurers,” Kamie said. “You heard what that special forces guy said. They’re not just here to take control of the area. They’re looking to kill us. To have fun killing us, specifically. That’s bad enough when we can respawn, but the towns folk don’t have that option.”
“You know, do-and-die heroics used to seem really cool in the game,” Battler X said. “I was all ‘bring on the challenge, hit me with your best shot’ to the devs.”
“A little different when it’s real life?” Kamie asked.
“Definitely, I mean, is this their best shot? I thought it’d be, like, difficult to handle a hardcore raid this but these boys are weaksauce,” Battler said. “They need to git gud, or I’m going to have to start equipping my armor for style value only.”
Kamie couldn’t see Battler’s face but she could hear how wide of a grin Battler was wearing.
It was a brave front. Kamie was ninety percent sure it had to be. The thing was though that it worked.
Getting knocked to zero health in a raid was bad enough but experiencing it in real life was thousands of times worse. If players were likely to turn toxic after a series of defeats in the game, then Kamie’s team should have been plutonium after dying over a dozen times each to take down the first two squads of Consortium solders who’d tried to knock them from the [Web Monarch’s Lair].
Their first deaths had come at the hands of Kremmer’s Razers. Kamie had managed to buy her team all of three seconds by smashing a crater into the ground, but the Razers had cut them down the moment the dust cleared. The process would have repeated it itself until the Razer’s grew bored but Kamie’s team had the the good fortune that Kamie’s crater had broken through to one of the lower levels of the dungeon, which in turn gave the Razer’s a clue as to their real quarry’s whereabouts.
Kamie’s team was forgotten in an instant as the lure of something posing at least the vaguest hint of a challenge appeared before the Razers/
Kamie had breathed a sigh of ghostly relief in seeing that. If the Razers had tried to press forward, it would have been effortless for them to slaughter a path to the dungeon’s [Heart Fires] and make resurrections essentially impossible. True, there were other [Heart Fires] but Kamie didn’t like her chance of reaching them.
Fighting Kremmer’s Razers would have been an exercise in utter despair, where the regular Consortium forces who followed in the Razer’s works were merely terrifying.
With the level cap in effect, the adventurers could contend with the Consortium troops but the Consortium squads were easily the toughest and best coordinated forces in the area.
Rather than a fight against a relatively mindless foe like the [Web Monarch], the attacks by the Consortium squads reminded Kamie of some of the hardest PvP matches she’d fought in, and by the game’s standards her team was losing those matches badly.
The Consortium squads had beaten Kamie’s team a half dozen times each because even in a level capped area they retained a strong blend of superior damage, remarkable toughness, and near telepathic levels of coordination. The only thing they seemed to lack was enough good sense to run away when their opponents proved to be more than they could handle and the ability to respawn almost infinitely.
It wasn’t a glorious, powerful feeling to stack your own corpses in front of an enemy, but it had worked and that was all Kamie felt like she could ask under the circumstances.
More than she could ask perhaps.
Dying repeatedly wasn’t the same when you knew you could come back, but even diminished the pain was real and the sense of powerlessness grew with each defeat. Everyone knew that they were hanging on by a thread and that Buzz Fightyear was right. Once the Consortium got serious about defeating them, the adventurers were done for.
Battler X was right too though.
They had to focus the fact of their victories and on the weaknesses the Consortium forces had shown.
The Consortium wasn’t unbeatable. They could have a bad day the same as anyone else, and they had weaknesses too.
For all their precision, they were lousy at reacting to the unexpected.
Their blasters packed a punch but with the level cap in place it wasn’t more than a proper tank could withstand, and the Consortium was just as vulnerable to [Taunt] effects as any mob was. Moreso perhaps since even after the taunt faded, they tended to continue attacking the tank rather than redirect their attacks to more effective targets.
It was easy to forget things like that, to feel like each setback they faced was an unalterable doom rather than a potential opportunity.
As Kamie raced down the tunnel from the [Heart Fire] to the [Web Monarch’s Lair] she drew in a deep breath and put a feral grin on her face.
She was racing towards death.
But she had good people with her. Friends she’d shared more with in the last day than some of the people she’d known for the last ten years in real life. She wasn’t fighting to hold off death, she was fighting to make sure it came to visit the misbegotten fools who tried to step into her house.
“They’re here!” Grail Force called out telepathically.
“And so are we!” Buzz Fightyear said, leaping off the edge of the path that spiraled down to the floor of the [Web Monarch’s Lair].
Kamie didn’t need to leap. As a [Monk], she had a movement speed skill, [Seven Step Stride] which would have gotten her into the fray just as fast. She threw herself off the path too though, screaming a wholly unnecessary warcry before crashing into the incoming Consortium squad.
Moving in Kamie’s body was a joy. As Grace, she had the strength and mass to win most of the bouts she fought in but Kamie had a grace and speed that could only come from a superhuman level of strength.
In the first few fights, Grace had relied on Kamie’s fighting skills alone, allowing the [Monk] to execute the flashy, impractical, and yet highly impactful moves she was used to fighting monsters with.
The Consortium’s forces were so quick though that even a superhuman physique had a hard time executing the broad motions of an MMO [Monk]. So Grace and Kamie had started merging.
It was primarily through their martial arts, Grace providing her long developed sense of minimal motion and weight distribution to Kamie’s innate awareness of moves that simply weren’t possible for someone who couldn’t bench press ten times their body weight with ease.
The end result was a fighting style unique to the two of them.
Or unique to her.
Grace had never envisioned Kamie as terribly different from herself and so the union of the two-minds-which-were-really-one was almost inevitable.
Kamie, she felt it was the right name since that was who she looked like currently, didn’t need to reflect on that though. When she moved, reflection, analysis, and worries all dropped away.
A soldier lay under her feet.
She’d knocked him down with her leap.
A kick to the neck.
Should be fatal.
Wouldn’t be fatal.
A rising punch. Defensive. Throws off the aim of her next target.
[Storm Flurry] sends twenty punches into the cranium of the soldier on her left.
Repeat stomp on the fallen foe.
Dodge his shot.
Open to a shot from the foe to the right.
Buzz Fightyear blocks for her.
She spins around Buzz’s torso, pulling him out of the line of another attack.
[Storm Flurry] is up again.
Twenty punches into the one who shot at Buzz.
Swing back around.
Knee to the jaw of the one who’d been knocked down.
Short jab right. Spoil the aim of the nearest foe.
Juke to the right and use them for cover.
Left and a right to the one on the left to spoil his aim.
Stomp and crunch the one on the ground.
Got him pinned though.
Buzz takes his head off.
Two more close in.
Leg sweep to take one down and drag the other with.
Ground fighting in a crowd is bad.
Grail Force freezes one.
Battler X kills another. Used a move. Doesn’t matter which.
They’re doing well.
Then the earth rolls.
Kamie’s back on her feet before the shaking even stops, before she registers just how loud the blastwave was that passed through them.
The fight’s been disrupted. Everyone was stunned by the intensity of the shock that passed through them. Buzz seems to have weathered it as well as Kamie did, probably because of his status protection abilities.
Strangely, despite sharing some of those status protections, the Consortium squad fared far worse.
Kamie watches the rise, shaking their heads and reorienting themselves.
Most look dazed.
Some look different though.
Her [Tactical Sense] begins screaming at her. She can feel something very wrong in the tableau before her and it only takes a moment to see what that is.
Static fills the eyes of at least half the remaining Consortium squad, and they look hungry.