Despite the screaming and death that surrounded her, Lisa felt remarkably calm.
“That’s probably partially my fault,” Lost Alice said. “I’m not exactly bothered by bloodshed.”
“You’re also not turning into a feral killing machine,” Lisa said, sparing a glance down the hall to where Vixali and Qiki had moved out of position and were shredding [Hungry Shadows] to ash and bone fragments with their claws.
Lisa wasn’t sure if they’d wound up deep in the fray in order to protect the less combat capable human behind them or if the [Vampire Queen] and her [Castellan] had simply succumbed to their bloodlust. In either case they seemed to be committed to the battle.
“I’d say I don’t do ‘feral frenzy’, but there was that guy in the [Sunken Deeps],” Lost Alice said. “I suppose it’s more accurate to say I don’t do it often. It’s one of the reasons I started learning to be a [Grave Mender].”
“And I thought I was just making a brokenly powerful build combination,” Lisa said.
“Maybe you were? We create ourselves right?” Lost Alice asked.
Their philosophical reverie was interrupted as one of the [Hungry Shadows] got past Ashad/Ironborn’s guard.
One of the effects of the Shadows gaining intelligence was that they understood how to prioritize their attacks much better. With Ironborn’s Taunt no longer in effect, the Shadow didn’t waste any time on the wall of indestructible steel that was the tank in front of it. Instead it dove on Rip Shot, it’s nightmare maw of fangs gaping wide to tear out her throat.
Lost Alice held her healing spell on Ironborn rather than drop it, knowing she could apply a [Counter Death] on Rip to buy time if need to. It was a cruel choice. Rip would find having her throat torn out exactly as unpleasant as Rose would have as a human, but mitigating pain was a secondary consideration for a healer, falling well behind keeping the party alive and able to function.
The cruelty of the choice was also tempered somewhat.
Before the Shadow could land it’s attack, Tessa had her fist slammed into the back of the creatures mouth.
Her fist wasn’t glowing.
She hadn’t transformed back to Pillowcase.
She wasn’t even using any special tanking skills to avoid damage.
“God I love that idiot,” Lisa said to no one but herself as her heart unclenched from the scare of something happening to Rip.
Tessa’s forearm didn’t do particularly well against the Shadows fangs of course and she wasn’t quiet or calm once she recognized what a bad idea her action had been. Fortunately Matt had her covered.
“[Casting spell: Summon Nightmare Hound],” Matt said, the words a bit more hurried than a spell’s invocation should be. It was okay though, the [Nightmare Hound] in question was a good boy and came howling up out of ground anyways.
The [Hungry Shadow] was a roughly man-sized monster with flaming eyes and a mouth full of terrible, glittering fangs beyond count. It feared nothing and no one.
Which was a mistake.
Something isn’t called a ‘Nightmare Hound’ because it’s easily dismissed.
The good news for Tessa was that after the [Nightmare Hound] bit the [Hungry Shadow] into two pieces, it turned to ash and she was spared the problem of trying to extract her still-mostly-human hand from its mouth.
“Oww,” Tessa whined, cradling her bleeding arm in her good one.
“I’ll get you in a sec,” Lisa said. There was some tiny chance the experience might incline Tessa to think of her own safety for at least a half second before charging into danger, but Lisa was mostly just focused on making sure the gaps in Ironborn’s defensive skills were covered with sufficient healing.
As a max level character, Ironborn should have had no trouble with the [Hungry Shadows]. Except the caravan was traveling through a series of corridors which were all in a level capped area. Because if they weren’t the max level Shadows would have devoured them in a blink. Ironborn wasn’t perfectly setup to fight under the level restriction, but at level 20 he was still stronger than any of the other tanks they had available.
Except for possibly Obby? Lisa heard Obby carving a path forwards for the caravan and wasn’t sure there was anyone up there supporting her.
“If she needs help, she’ll call for it,” Lost Alice said. “She’s as familiar with party tactics as you are.”
“Yeah for all the lowbies we have here, at least there are plenty of us who’re used to this kind of raid-level nonsense,” Lisa said.
“It’s helping me too,” Lost Alice said. “It feels like the practical experience we have from my memories and the indirect experience we have from yours is working together nicely.”
“I wish that were true for everyone though,” Lisa said.
Chatter from farther back in the line reinforced Lisa’s concern.
“We’ve got Shadows dropping from the ceiling onto people after twenty feet ahead of us,” Kamie Anne Do called out on the [Alliance’s] part line. “We can’t get over there in time.”
Chaos erupted on the line as people offered to try to help, or wanted to know where exactly the Shadows were, or shouted for their allies not to leave them.
“We need a leader,” Lisa said, again to herself. Talking on any channel was a waste in all the chaos.
“Or to strike off with just our team,” Lost Alice said.
It was tempting. Terribly, brutally tempting. As a healer main, Lisa had been on too many teams and seen too many people fall apart. It was a rough thing to fail, but giving up on people was even harder.
Or it should have been.
Looking back, Lisa could see how jaded she’d become. [Broken Horizons] had lost a lot of its joy for her.
And that was what Tessa, and Rip, and Matt had brought back. They were all terrified of the new world they found themselves in, but in some weird way, they were all happy to be in it together.
If the [Hungry Shadows], or the [Consortium of Pain], or the [Gods of Old] wanted to tear that down and spread misery everywhere? Well [Adventurers] weren’t good about fighting for their lives, but give them a treasure to win they actually cared about and they would string even the gods up and beat them like pinatas until the desired treasure appeared.
With a deep breath, Lisa felt her spirit move.
She was an [Adventurer] now and her treasure was standing all around her.
Jamal had a dog. He’d always wanted one and now he had the best one ever.
The [Nightmare Hound] seemed to be happy to have been gotten too. He gazed at Jamal with eyes the size of Matt’s fist, a swirl of light specks flickering in their vast darkness like a galaxy tumbling through space.
“I think he wants to eat more of the Shadows,” Matt said.
“I don’t want him to get hurt though,” Jamal said.
“We can just summon him back if he does,” Matt said.
“Yeah, but I don’t want him to get hurt,” Jamal said.
The protectiveness wasn’t entirely based on empathy for the living nightmare. Keeping the Hound close meant that if any other Shadows got past Ironborn, there’d be someone other than Tessa to keep Rose from getting torn to pieces.
“It’s important that pets get sufficient enrichment,” Matt said.
“Okay, the Consortium did not teach you about that,” Jamal said.
“Huh, no, I guess they didn’t,” Matt said. “Apparently I can access your skills like you can use mine?”
Jamal wanted to laugh at the idea of the [Metal Mechanoid] taking up pet care, but, the current situation aside, it wasn’t all that hard to picture.
“Rip!” Lost Alice called out on their team channel, shouting over the chaos of the battle. “The people behind us need help. You’re fast enough to get to them. Go. We’ll back you up.”
Rose didn’t need to be told twice to go play hero.
“Me too?” Jamal asked.
“Yeah, your [Nightmare Hound] can pass through people. Send him along with Rip and try to push through the crowd as fast as you can without trampling people,” Lisa said.
“We can’t send them in there alone,” Tessa said.
“I know. Get moving too,” Lost Alice said. “We can’t coordinate all the [Adventurers] but if we lead by example they might start copying us. I’ll follow once Ironborn has the next few whittled down.”
“You can go now,” Ashad said. “I’ve got potions I can use to cover the gaps.”
“No need,” Starfire said. “[Casting spell: Verdant Regrowth]. I’ve got him. Go and save the others!”
“This should help,” Glimmerglass said. “[Casting spell: Lesser Solar Barrier].”
Jamal saw Matt’s body, as well as Lost Alice and Tessa begin to glow with a golden light. Rose missed the effect because Rip had already disappeared with a thunderclap as she ran over the crowd by running along a wall and around the bend.
Pushing through the crowd was challenging given the beefy bulk of Matt’s body. For someone who wasn’t a melee class, being so stocky seemed a bit weird, but Matt’s built-in skills explained that the size of his body which made for the inexpensive storage of magical energy. Having a body made by the lowest bidder wasn’t always the greatest thing, even if the original design was well into the super human range for most qualities.
While moving through the crowd was difficult, keeping track of where to go was not.
Rose’s fighting style was effective, efficient, and energetic.
What is was not was subtle.
By the time he got to her, three of the [Hungry Shadows] were drifting to ash and one more was stumbling back as a [Lightning Shot] burned a hole through the center of its chest. Rip however was being grappled by three other Shadows and was not having a good time of it.
“Okay boy, get ‘em,” Jamal said, which put a wolf-ish smile on the [Nightmare Hound’s] face.
It ran directly through the dozen people directly in between Matt and Rip. Before the Shadows could drag Rip to the ground, the Hound was there, knocking one off and tearing into another.
“[Casting spell: Lesser Spectral Wounds],” Matt said placing a large and only somewhat illusionary gash through the Shadows arm and torse. The injury’s effects were limited, but they were enough for Rip to wiggle out of the Shadow’s grasp and place another arrow straight into the center of its body.
Matt wanted to cheer, but it was far too soon for that. As fast as she’d won free of the Shadow who was holding her, five more appeared.The horde of [Hungry Shadows] was seemingly endless.
Jamal didn’t let that dissuade him. He kept pushing through, casting spells and firing off attacks from his staff, but the melee was too chaotic and they were too outnumbered. They were going be overwhelmed and die again. Jamal wasn’t going to stop fighting, but he knew they were doomed.
Until the [Hungry Shadows] began fleeing.
And the [Alliance] chat went wild.
The voices on the [Alliance] channel were a cacophony of cheers that Jamal couldn’t help but be swept up in.
“This isn’t right,” Tessa said, putting a hand on Matt’s shoulder to get his attention.
“What’s not?” Jamal asked on their team channel.
“The [Hungry Shadows] shouldn’t be running away,” Lost Alice said. “That’s not a good sign.”
“Maybe their boss figured they couldn’t beat us here?” Rose asked.
“We should check the wounded and see if anyone’s missing,” Tessa said.
That idea got communicated out to the other [Adventurers] quickly and it wasn’t long before the answer came back.
“We’ve got everyone still here,” Kamie Anne Do said. “But there were injuries.”
“On the townsfolk?” Lost Alice asked.
“Let me see them,” Lost Alice said.
Their team pushed through a few more small groups of people before they found a group who’d been too far away from the higher level adventurers to avoid contact with the [Hungry Shadows].
Four of the towns people were down, unconscious from wounds which oozed with purple light and were slowly draining the color from them.