He wasn’t Matt Painting. Jamal knew that. Unlike Rose and Rip, who were two sides of the same coin, Matt and he were distinct people. Or somewhat distinct? They definitely shared a perspective on things, and Jamal apparently had access to the skills and abilities Matt had been crafted with, but each one had their own thoughts and desires. That seemed like something that could cause problems in the future but in the face of weird shadow-zombie-hunger minions, the two of them had a pretty easy time being of one mind on what to do.
“Get off her!” Jamal screamed before Matt began the incantation for a [Revealing Insight] spell.
Neither of them really wanted to get to know the monsters before them much better, but neither was willing to gamble on being able to take the former soldiers down without as much damage buffing as they could get.
Ahead of them, the [Lightning Snakes] swarmed into the melee. Given that the snakes recognized Rip and and the unfamiliar glowing woman seemed to be helping Rip, it wasn’t hard for them to work out who to start biting. Unfortunately for them, even fangs charged with electricity didn’t impair the [Hungry Shadows] much.
The [Gloom Drinkers] didn’t fare much better, being even lower level than the [Lightning Snakes]. After their first pass and more than a half dozen losses, they pulled back, swirling around Matt either to offer him protection or request it.
“[Casting spell: Lesser Spectral Wounds],” Matt said focusing on the [Hungry Shadow] that still had Rip’s arm in its mouth.
On the one hand, Jamal was unhappy he didn’t have any spells with solid impact behind them. Blasting the monsters away from his best friend was something his heart screamed out for him to do. On the other hand, the fact that his spells effectively couldn’t miss and had no blast radius for Rose to get caught in meant he didn’t have to worry about hitting her, so he focused on that while Matt focused on what he did best.
“Nice shot!” Rose called out on their private channel when Matt’s follow up [Torment] spell severed some critical piece of the [Hungry Shadow’s] psyche and left it to crumble to ash as the Hunger abandoned it.
Rip was on her feet and had an arrow nocked in her bow in an instant, but that was all the time it took for one of the other [Hungry Shadows] to turn its attention towards Matt.
[Dream Spinners] did get defensive spells. Jamal knew that. He also knew he had a few levels to go before he picked up any of the really useful ones. Matt was made of various magical metals, which should have helped but even low level foes were capable of shredding materials his body was composed of.
What he needed was a tank.
What he got was just a few inches shy of a berserker.
“No! No more!” Tessa screamed as she jumped on the [Hungry Shadows] back. With her free hand she clutched the back of its head and slammed the creature into the floor pummeling its face into the stone over and over again.
As a relatively unathletic human, her blows shouldn’t have hurt the [Hungry Shadow] much at all. As a burning rainbow who was powered up with the force of Pillowcase’s [Soul Render] ability the story was rather different.
The Shadow made a squelching sound. The kind which immaterial beings are entirely incapable of. Blobs of what were hopefully just magic splattered the hall with each hit, quickly painting in a sticky ooze.
Another [Hungry Shadow] leapt at Tessa from behind but Rip lit it up with shot after shot from her bow, the arrows flying faster than any human could have loosed them. The Shadow glowed from within under the barrage of lighting before exploding in a cloud of ash.
The creature in Tessa’s hands splattered once, twice, three times more before its structural integrity was fractured beyond the point of no return and it to turned to ash as well.
That left only one other [Hungry Shadow] Jamal thought.
That’s when he noticed Lost Alice had let her healing spell drop.
Tessa’s strength came from a combination of rage and borrowed magical ability. Lost Alice however wasn’t human at all.
“I did not know she could tear someone’s head clean off his shoulders like that,” Jamal said to Rose on their private channel, stunned for a moment at the sight.
“That’s makes two of us,” Rose said, her barrage of arrows paused in surprise.
“Are you ok?” Jamal asked.
“Yeah, her spell patched me up completely,” Rose said. “How about you?”
“Those things were pretty freaky,” Jamal said.
“I don’t like that,” Rose said. “They’re different from what the Hunger did before.”
“Seemed easier to fight though?”
“Maybe,” Rose said. “We don’t know what Tessa did to herself this time though.”
“That’s a good point.”
“Are…you…two okay?” Tessa asked. The glow around her had faded and she was panting as though she’d run a marathon at a dead sprint.
“Yeah, we’re good,” Jamal said. “What about you?”
“Let me take a look at her,” Lady Midnight said.
“What is her health bar doing?” Lost Alice asked.
“Nothing good,” Lady Midnight said, checking Tessa’s pulse and inspecting her face.
Jamal saw the green bar over Tessa’s head was wavering up and down. It never emptied but its movements were too erratic to be anything natural.
“You had a healing spell on her though?” Lost Alice said.
“Her health was doing this with the spell on her. I’m not sure what effect magic has on a normal human’s body, but I didn’t want to take the chance it was going to push her into a stroke or worse.”
“I’m ok,” Tessa said, gasping the words out with the partially breaths she was able to pull in. “That was just kind of a lot, all of a sudden.”
“You’re not okay,” Lady Midnight said. “Lie back and let me finish checking you over.”
“You’re a doctor?” Jamal asked. “In real life I mean.”
“No. I’m a nurse,” Lady Midnight said.
“Oh good! You know what you’re doing then,” Tessa said, and promptly passed out.
Returning to consciousness was rather disorienting. For a not terribly brief moment, everything and everyone was unfamiliar. Scrambled bits of context swirled around in her mind and minor things like her own name and which planet she was on were entirely lost.
“Tessa, can you hear me?” The woman who was speaking was a stranger? No. A friend? Maybe? Someone familiar? Yes. A healer? Yes!
“That’s right, can you tell me what you’re feeling now?” Lady Midnight asked.
“Tired,” Tessa said and Pillowcase added, “It’s like the aftermath of a severe [Main Drain] effect.”
“Pillowcase?” Lost Alice asked. “Is Tessa in there too?”
“Yep,” Tessa said. “The only one missing in here is Glimmerglass.”
Her memories were reassembling themselves faster than Pillowcase was used to. She recalled the Consortium’s damage response training. The exercises were fairly straightforward torture sessions, with the instuctors harming the troops via a wide variety of methods to familiarize them with the sorts of injuries they were expected to sustain and continue functioning through. Since Tessa was still on the floor, she would have failed the tests miserably but Pillowcase wasn’t going holding it against herself. In their current form they weren’t built for that sort of punishment.
They also weren’t built to be hugged as tightly as Lost Alice was hugging them.
“Don’t. Ever. Do. That. Again.” Lost Alice’s command was whispered but clear enough that Tessa felt her heart soar a little bit.
“Not planning to,” she said. “But I do need my ribs in one piece.”
Lost Alice released her hold and backed away but not far. She looked like she was waiting for Tessa to do the next self destructive thing on a long list of them.
Or like she just didn’t want to be too far away.
Tessa hoped it was the latter.
“We should talk. Later,” she said on their private channel and caught Lisa’s small nod in confirmation.
“The good news is your little nap there seems to have stabilized your health,” Lady Midnight said.
“Is that normal?” Matt asked. He and Rip were hovering behind Lady Midnight and were surrounded by giant moths and electrified snakes.
Tessa shrugged inwardly and decided she’d ask about that later.
“For a human? No,” Lady Midnight said. “I’m not sure ‘human’ describes our friend though. At least not ‘Earth standard human’.”
“Why do you say that?” Tessa asked, curious to hear if Lady Midnight could confirm her suspicions.
“I found this in one of your wounds before it closed,” Lady Midnight said and showed Tessa a tiny tuft of glittering stuffing. “The wound wasn’t bloody at all, it just had a bit of this leaking out. Also your vitals are excellent. Like excellent for a world class athlete and, no offense, but I’m going to guess you don’t have a collection of Olympic gold medals at home?”
“Does it count if they’re in a phone app for a sports game?” Tessa asked.
“Why would she have stuffing in her veins?” Rip asked.
“We drew on my abilities,” Pillowcase said. “Maybe that caused our bodies to merge as well?”
“That might have been what was happening with your health,” Lisa said. “If you were flipping between your [Soul Knight] max health and your [Void Speaker] total your health could go up and down without you being damaged.”
“That makes as much sense as anything else I guess?” Tessa said. “And supports your idea that trying that kind of thing has some cost associated with it.”
“Do you think you can stand?” Lady Midnight asked.
“Definitely. I’m feeling a lot more solid than I was before I caught my breath,” Tessa said. “How long was I out for?”
“A minute or less,” Lady Midnight said. “Fainting like that tends to have a short duration. You’re recovering from it faster than normal though if you feel like standing already. Do you think you can handle some liquid?”
“That would be good,” Tessa said, noticing how parched her throat felt.
“Try this then,” Lady Midnight said and handed Tessa a glowing blue bottle.
“A Mana Potion?” Tessa asked.
“It’s the only sweet drink I’ve got,” Lady Midnight said. “We want to make sure your blood sugar isn’t too low and the mana recovery may be good for you too if you’re right about what you suffered being similar to a [Main Drain] effect.”
“Should we let her rest for a bit first?” Lisa asked.
“Normally yes, you don’t want the patient to throw up whatever you give them,” Lady Midnight said. “In this case though we don’t have that luxury.”
“You think the Hunger is going to send more troops after her?” Rip asked.
“The Hunger!” Tessa tried to shoot up to her feet, but Lost Alice was too close by and too quick and too ready for that sort of foolishness.
“We took care of the zombies it sent,” she said.
“I know, but it did something. Or I did something to it. It changed. It’s not what it was anymore!” Tessa said.
“I know. We saw that,” Lisa said. “But we beat the things it turned those zombies into. We’ll be okay.”
“I don’t know,” Tessa said. “I think it’s smarter now. The zombies were like puppets but the [Hungry Shadows] had an awareness to them. I think the Hunger is aware now too, and if it was mad before, it’s going to be positively vicious now.”
“That’s going to be a problem then,” Rip said and gestured to the [Lightning Snakes]. “According to these guys, the Hunger managed to clear out a big portion of the upper levels of the Ruins. And it got a whole lot of the Consortium’s Troops.”
“So it has a lot more than five zombies to send at us,” Tessa said.
“Why is it sending them after you though?” Lisa asked.
“I think it wants me to kill it,” Tessa said. “But I have no idea how.”