Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 29

All hell very rarely breaks loose. If it did, whatever problem that was occurring wouldn’t be able to get worse. All the hell would already be there, and if there’s one thing that’s universally true, it’s that things can always get worse.

Tessa had her mace drawn and her shield ready as she, Lisa, Obby, Starchild, and Lady Midnight charged over the first hill outside of [Dragonshire]. In the game, all the characters ran at the same rate, regardless of size or athleticism. In the real version of the [Fallen Kingdoms], Tessa could see that Lisa was only staying with them because she was sensible enough not to charge into a melee first when she was a healer.

That bit of well earned wisdom meant that the tank team managed to slam into the dozen  [Cursed Walkers] with Tess and Obby in front to start collecting the mobs attention properly. Unlike the damage dealing team, who’d been more or less instantly overrun.

“[Bastion of Blood],” Tessa called out, invoking one of her newest abilities.

An aura formed around her and wrapped dark tendrils around everyone in range that she recognized as a friend. The tendrils shielded the damage Rip and the others were taking at the cost of nibbling away at Pillowcase’s health. As tradeoffs went it wasn’t terribly enjoyable, but it was quite effective since Pillowcase took only a fraction of the damage that the others would have. 

“[Stalwart Shout],” Obby called out, her [Guardian] ability magically demoralizing the enemies to reduce their damage even further and lock the Walkers attention away from anyone who didn’t have a tanks enmity skills.

“What part of ‘wait for us before engaging’ wasn’t clear?” Lisa asked over the party channel as she and Lady Midnight began patching up Baelgritz, Rip, and Matt, each of whom was doing to less than half their health.

“We didn’t!” Rip said. “These things weren’t here two seconds ago!”

“They were, you just couldn’t see them,” Tessa said. “We’ll explain after the fight. And I’m going to lodge a complaint with the beta testers. They never mentioned the Walkers were ambush mobs!”

“The screaming has stopped. Are they okay?” Yawlorna asked. Telepathic conversation was a new things for space travelers, but they were adapting to it as quickly as Tessa and the rest of her team had.

“We’ve got the Walkers under control,” Obby said. “This is a big spawn of them, but I think we can manage it without Glimmerglass’s help. Maybe.”

“I’m watching you’re health bars. So far so good it looks like. I’ll hold off on tainting the fight unless you or Pillowcase drops below a third, or if anyone get knocked into critical health,” Glimmerglass said.

“Tainting the fight?” Yawlorna asked.

Tessa wanted to answer but six [Cursed Walkers] who were all equal level to her had decided that she was obviously the tastiest treat on the field. Their numbers were a serious issue, but their mindless ferocity was less a problem, largely thanks to Pillowcase’s reflexes and calm demeanor.

For Tessa, having a monster growling with rage six inches from her face was unnerving. For Pillowcase it was day that ended in ‘y’. The one’s she couldn’t block, she parried, the one’s she couldn’t parry, she trusted her armor to save her from, and the one’s her armor didn’t deflect managed to rip bits of her apart, but nothing so significant that Lisa couldn’t put her back together before the cumulative destruction became a problem.

“If Glimmerglass joins the fight, any enemy she touches will yield experience as though someone of her level had beaten it,” Obby said, unperturbed by the eight Walkers who were menacing her. 

To be fair, Tessa observed, [Guardian] abilities tended to reduce or eliminate damage to the tank, which probably made it much easier to fight and hold a conversation. It also sounded like a much more pleasant form of tanking than the one Tessa had chosen for Pillowcase. In theory that was balanced out by Pillowcase doing more damage than a [Guardian] would but neither tank really compared to a true damage dealing class.

“You’re holding up great,” Lisa said on their private channel. “Not much difference between you and Obby and she’s got five levels on the rest of us.”

Tessa knew Lisa was just being kind, but that kindness still gave Tessa a warm sparkle in her heart.

That she got to keep her heart firmly anchored in her chest was a pleasant surprise too, one that was largely driven by Rip rallying their damage dealers so that the [Cursed Walkers] began having a very bad night and would have regretted their life choices were they not both already dead and incapable of even basic sapience.

Lightning arrows, deadly illusions, and an enchanted oak staff were joined by the spears Baelgritz, Illuthiz, and Hermeziz wielded and all of them proved devastating to the Walkers.

Tessa was particularly impressed with the demon spears. She’d seen a fair portion of Rip and Matt’s growth, but watching Hermeziz fight was like meeting a new person.

The space travelers were big, not as tall as Yawlorna, but still impressive physical specimens. In their natural form, they moved with the surety that great strength brought. With levels to back their natural abilities up they’d gained an alarming amount of speed and a starkly beautiful sort of grace.

“Is it bad that watching Herm plunge a spear straight through someone’s head seems kinda pretty?” Tessa asked Lisa privately.

“I’m trying to tell myself that this feels great because the [Cursed Walkers] are definitely not people, and not because I’m losing it to blood lust,” Lisa said. “And I really hope I’m not lying to myself.”

“Are you starting to get hungry again?” Tessa asked, remembering Lost Alice making a meal of Mikkonel.

“Oh, this has nothing to do with me,” Lost Alice said. “I’m still nicely full. This is just my battle experience being a little corruptive. I think?”

“Or not,” Lisa said. “Alice makes this tolerable, but it’s not like I was all about the mass slaughter as a player.”

“Right there with ya,” Tessa said.

“Heh,” Pillowcase laughed. “You should see what the Consortium’s live combat exercises are like. Trust me, you’re all angels by comparison.”

It was darkly amusing that one of the Walkers left them open enough for Pillowcase to punctuate her point by crushing its head clean off its head with blunt force.

“Be not afraid, indeed,” Lost Alice said, repeating what angels seemed to say fairly often when they showed up. On reflection, Tessa felt like she was beginning to understand that sentiment, being both largely benevolent and terrifying at the same time.

“Was that the last one?” Rip asked.

“I think so,” Matt said.

“Stay still,” Obby said.

“How still?” Baelgritz asked, as he and his partners froze in place.

“You can relax,” Lady Midnight said. “Just don’t walk any farther away from town. You could trigger another ambush.”

“Okay. Good to know,” Rip said. “Could anyone explain what the hell that was. You know, for those of us who don’t want to get eaten again.”

“It was an ambush,” Starchild said. “It’s not something you usually see outside of dungeon areas, or exceptional monsters though.”

“Ambushes just appear out of thin air like that?” Illuthiz asked. 

“Unless you have special perception abilities, or you can bait them into revealing themselves before you’re within their perception radius,” Glimmerglass said.

“That will make this hunt a bit more challenging,” Obby said. “We could easily wind up engaging one group and triggering another one in the process.”

“It’s weird that the beta testers didn’t mention anything like this,” Tessa said. “Ambush zones aren’t unheard of, just rare, and they’re big news since they can turn into either great grinding spots or horrible murder machines.”

“Fortunately, we seem to be strong enough to weather the added challenge,” Starchild said.

“Oh, I bet that’s it,” Lisa said. “Most of the beta testers who do the low level content play through it solo right?”

“Yeah, but what does…oh, damn, you’re probably right,” Tessa said. “The beta testers didn’t see the ambushes because they probably only spawn for bigger teams like ours is now.”

“Does that mean we should break up?” Rip asked, a crack in her voice betraying her unhappiness with the idea.

“No. Not in the slightest. This is a good thing. Great even.” Tessa knew she should fight to keep the evil cackle out of her voice, but under the circumstances it was hard to deny the manic glee bubbling up within her.

“You’re thinking we turn this into a proper farm run, aren’t you?” Obby asked, delight bubbling in her eyes as well.

“I mean, we’ve got two tanks, two healers, a high level backup with healing, and a bunch of dps who are clearly unafraid of charging it devouring maws at the first opportunity,” Tessa said. “Are we missing any of the ingredients we’d need for success?”

“If we’re supposed to have a clue what you’re talking about, then I’d say we’re missing that,” Yawlorna said.

“What my girl here is suggesting is that we fight in a highly aggressive manner,” Lisa said, and Tessa felt a trill of joy at the reference to herself as Lisa’s girl. “Our original gameplan was to set up a static location, a camp, outside of the range of the Walkers. We’d then send someone in to attract their attention and lead them back to where we were all waiting.”

“That’s a standard monster clearing strategy,” Starchild said. “My [Grove] did it all the time when our woods were invaded.”

“It has the benefit that a lot of monsters, especially mindless ones like the Walkers, don’t notice that they’re numbers are being steadily thinned out,” Lisa said.

“Also, there’s less chance of fighting more than want, or more than you can handle,” Lady Midnight said.

“And ‘farming’ throws that idea away?” Yawlorna asked.

“Farming takes the opposite approach,” Obby said. “Rather than trying to limit the number of monsters we fight at once, we try to pull in as many as possible, or, in this case, as many as we can take without everyone dying.”

“I notice you said ‘everyone’ and not ‘anyone dying’ there,” Hermeziz said.

“Farming is more dangerous, at least when you’re doing it for xps like this,” Tessa said. “If we were all Glimmerglass’s level and just killing these things for their loot, then it would be safer than riding a bike.”

“More dangerous but the rewards are higher because you’re defeating more foes in less time?” Yawlorna asked.

“That and, in the game, and maybe here too, there were bonuses for killing monsters in quick succession,” Tessa said. “Those can be worth more than the initial defeat if you string together enough of them.”

“And if things go wrong?” Yawlorna asked.

“Then I’d have to step in,” Glimmerglass said.

“Okay,” Yawlorna said.

“Uh, what?” Balegritz said. “You’re fine with this idea?”

“You’re not?” Yawlorna asked, as though even the possibility of Baelgritz turning down a chance at mayhem was unthinkable.

“Oh, we’re all for it,” Baelgritz said.

“No. Not all of us,” Hermeziz said.

“Don’t worry, we’ll keep you safe,” Illuthiz said.

“Not if I keep you safe first,” Hermeziz said, scowling  but moving closer as Illuthiz mussed up his hair.

“Then, as I said, I’m in favor of the idea,” Yawlorna said.

“Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but weren’t you really worried about us getting Ill and her guys killed?” Rip asked.

“Yes. And I’m not necessarily looking to test out our supposed immortality, there not enough control measures in place for a proper experiment, but I’m satisfied that we’re in potentially less mortal peril than we were previously.”

“Yeah, that’s not the only reason though boss, is it?” Baelgritz asked.

“If this should give me a chance to study our new friend Glimmerglass in action, I admit I would not be disappointed,” Yawlorna said, and on her crimson demon skin, the blush was virtually unnoticeable.

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