The blade would impact her neck in two hundredths of a second. In less than the blink of an eye it would complete its cut and exit the other side.
Rose wasn’t worried about this.
Granted, none of the [Adventurers] she knew actually needed to be “worried” about a lethal attack catching them by surprise. A quick trip to a [Heart Fire] would remedy and mangling her body endured, up to and including rebuilding her a new one if she needed it.
Rose didn’t need to be afraid of physical violence anymore, and that feeling was beyond liberating.
She still dodged though.
No naming of the power.
A hundredth of a second before the blade touched her skin, she simply wasn’t there.
The world resumed its motion again as she slid to a halt ten paces away.
Time wasn’t passing at full speed though.
From Rose’s point of view, the seconds ticked by at maybe one tenth their normal speed. That was largely thanks to the lightning danced over her skin and along her nerves. The adrenaline in her veins helped a little too
Her attacker was turning to face her far faster than any normal human could have.
Given that his eyes were burning orbs of blue light and his chest was a rib cage filled with a similar blue flame where his heart should have been, it seemed safe to assume he wasn’t a ‘normal human being’.
A [Twinned Fire Shot] to his center torso further confirmed that when the detonating arrows blew him apart into a cloud of smoke that instantly reformed.
She let out a breath, letting the lightning within her charge up again and time, or her perception of it, resumed its normal pace.
Which meant the undead monster was on her in an instant.
Being able to see him coming made a world of difference though.
“[Shadowbind],” she called out, amplifying the effect of the skill by naming it.
The arrow that flew from her bow missed the [Crypt Killer], as it was intended to, and struck a patch of ground behind it. The monster froze in place, unable to move towards her, or in fact, move at all.
“What’s that!” Aegis screamed aloud.
“Don’t know,” Rose said. “Dangerous. Stay away.”
“[Somnolent Transformation],” Matt called out, but Rose saw the spell slide off the [Crypt Killer].
This was one foe they couldn’t turn into a sheep to be dealt with later.
She was ten feet away from where she’d been standing and only then saw the blue fireball the [Crypt Killer] had hurled at her. [Shadowbind] was a handy ability, but it didn’t last long at all.
“Nice moves,” Jamal said on their private channel as Matt readied another spell. “That what you wanted to show off before?”
“Yeah, but not like this,” Rose said.
She was dodging again, the lightning pulling her to safety when Matt’s spell hit the [Crypt Killer].
It ate the spell.
No damage. No debuff. If anything its eyes seemed to glow brighter afterwards.
“It’s absorbing magic,” she said to the team so that Aegis and Makes wouldn’t make the same mistake.
“That’s not good,” Matt said, gauging the heft of his staff, clearly questioning its usefulness as a blunt weapon.
Rip sent another pair of arrows at the monster, though this time she didn’t give them any enchanted effect beyond the massive extra force she normally applied and preternatural accuracy.
Both arrows found their mark, but didn’t manage to do more than chip the bones on his skull and breastbone.
Rip dashed away again, strafing to the left to keep her distance, while trying to lure the [Crypt Killer] away from the others.
It was a weak strategy, so she wasn’t surprised when it failed.
The [Crypt Killer] snapped its head around locking on to the two weakness members of the party, uttering a single word as it turned away from Rip, “Souls!”
Rip’s arrows continued to have as much effect as Matt’s spells, so Rose reached for the lightning again.
She couldn’t stop the [Crypt Killer] with arrows.
But she could with herself.
A bow is a great ranged weapon.
It’s a terrible barrier.
But it was what Rip had available.
The [Crypt Killer] surged against her for a long moment before dispersing into stinging gas and simply passing right over her.
“We’re going to need some help with this one,” she said to Jamal only, so as not to alarm the others.
“Already called for the others,” he said.
Rose flashed backwards again, catching the [Crypt Killer’s] sword blow on her bow again, with a good half sec to spare before it tore through Aegis Eyes.
“Bothersome,” the [Crypt Lord] said and withdrew, brandishing two swords where it had only held one before.
Rose felt her blood run cold.
She looked at her opponent’s level.
She was 35.
The other undead had been in the low 20s and their bosses hadn’t broken 30.
What the hell was a level 50 mob doing here?
What in the [Sunless Deeps] was a level 51 mob doing here.
Rose sunk into the lightning again, accelerating her perception even beyond what her [Lightning Form] could match, as Rip loosed a [Blistering Barrage].
The [Crypt Lord] shrugged off the hits, though no without an agreeable look of discomfort.
She could still hurt it.
It’s level ticked up to 52.
It began to advance and Rip knew she wasn’t going to be able to hold it for long enough.
The others were back in town.
The [Crypt Lord] was getting faster.
It couldn’t match her yet, but she didn’t like how the race between her party and the [Crypt Lord] leveling up was going to turn out.
A comet hit the [Crypt Lord].
The fist of an angry god might have done more damage. Rose wasn’t sure. It seemed like a toss up.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to cut in, but I think this guy’s going to be trouble,” Obby said, rising from the knee deep hole she’d cratered into the landscape. “Can you get your party back to town?”
Rose was stunned for a long time. Almost a full tenth of a second.
“Yeah, definitely,” she said as her wits caught up with her. So many questions. None of them worth asking at the moment though. “We can help you though.”
“Nope,” Obby said. “I’ve got this. Go. Get your team to safety. That’s the leader’s job.”
As she spoke the level 54 Crypt Lord reformed, looking somewhat worse for the wear.
“Are you sure?” Rose asked, hating the idea of leaving Obby behind despite the irrational sense that Obby would be fine.
“You don’t need to worry about me,” Obby said. “That’s my job to worry about you.”
The tears that poured from Rip’s eyes weren’t ideal for a leader to show, but she let them flow. Being too happy to see straight was weird under the circumstances, but she wasn’t going to deny that feeling at all.
Two hours had passed. Two hours and precisely zero useful questions had been answered. Yawlorna had tallied the count. Repeatedly. Zero. No rounding errors. No partial credits being omitted. Zero answers. Zero progress. Zero newunderstanding.
So it was time for a new gambit.
“Is part of his prison that he’s trapped looping through his past?” she asked during a momentary lull when Zardrak was assembling tea cups into a miniature model of his first dungeon complex.
“The details of his prison aren’t things we normally speak of in front of him,” Glimmerglass said, the ghost of a smile on her lips suggesting she understood Yawlorna’s ploy.
“Oh, as though it’s any big secret,” Zardrak said. “I worked out the mechanism a minute after I was trapped inside my new home. I will grant that the construction is magnificent. It’s not definitionally unbreakable, but the effort required and the cost paid for leaving it? Well calibrated I say. Probably about a million times more than I’d care to endure for something as worthless as ‘freedom’. But, it’s curious that you ask that specific question. What brought it to your mind?”
“Simple deduction,” Yawlorna said, delighted to be able to get a word in edgewise for a change. “You’ve been trapped here for quite some time. We’re new and unexpected and yet you seem content to regale us with tales of your past deeds and displays of your cleverness.”
“Ah, but you see, that is the delight of these accommodations,” Zardrak said. “I can’t leave, ever, seemingly, so all I have is what I brought in with me.”
“That’s not strictly true,” Yawlorna said.
“We’re not here to inspect the prison, or to visit casually,” Yawlorna said. “We’re here with a puzzle.”
“You tried to conquer the world before,” Yawlorna said.
“Yes. A dreadful idea I am well rid of. Ruling this world is akin to planting a million [Screamer Demons] in each ear, except at least with the demons they wouldn’t be breeding more demons with more problems every second of every day.”
“It’s a shame you didn’t see that before we needed to stuff you in here,” Glimmerglass said.
“Some perspectives can only be gained after they would be of any help,” Zardrak said.
“What if we told you that your perspective could still matter,” Yawlorna said. “What if instead of conquering the world, you could change it completely?”
She saw a new flame kindle in his widening eyes.
“Oh. Do go on.” he said, giving Yawlorna every last bit of his attention.
Hailey was used to Tessa having kind of “out there” ideas but she couldn’t remember her old friend every having one as terrible as the one she was proposing.
“Uh, you want to invite the great corrupting monster that’s overwhelmed a literal alien invasion fleet to come on down and dine on us too?” Hailey asked. “Are you sure you’re feeling like yourself.
The idea that Tessa had been replaced by the [Hungry Shadow] seemed ludicrous all things considered, but infected? Could that be possible? How would they even begin to tell?
“Myself? No. I’m feeling like myselves,” Tessa said. Or maybe it was Pillowcase? “I’m not suggesting we open up a gate to the [High Beyond] and invite the [Hungry Shadow] down here for a smorgasbord of tasty regular people.”
“You’re suggesting we assault the [Hungry Shadow] directly, once it’s somehow been made in a foe as real as any of the ones we’ve struggled against over the last few centuries,” Penny said, and Hailey could see wheels within wheels turning behind her eyes.
“Right. It’s a problem because its abilities are literally unlimited. It wasn’t a part of this world and so saying ‘you can do this’ or ‘you can’t do this’ didn’t have any meaning,” Tessa said.
“But that doesn’t make sense. If it ‘wasn’t part of this world’, then it shouldn’t have been able to do anything,” Hailey said.
“Sure. That makes sense,” Tessa said. “And having worked with code, or at least people who program, how often do systems work just like their supposed to? Or, better yet, I’m sure all the bugs you’ve seen are all repeatable and have a clear root cause right?”
“Okay, first, you’re evil, and second, you’re saying this thing is basically a bug in reality?”
“For lack of a better description? Yeah. Call it a null reference that never should have happened. Call it a bug. Call it a nothing that’s partway to becoming a something. Its whole deal is that its undefined.”
“So we beat it by defining it,” Penny said.
“Or we save it,” Tessa said. “The [Hungry Shadow] is a monster, and maybe that’s what it wants to stay. Maybe it becomes something fully real and the [Adventurers] take turns making it a loot pinata out of it, like we do. Or maybe it can become something else. That’s the whole point of changing after all.”
“It’s a fine vision,” Penny said. “But one we have practical method of implementing.”
“We might,” Tessa said. “Or I might. I’ll need a few days, and to get my team together. Plus transport to [Hells Breach] probably the day after tomorrow. And if it goes well, we’ll need a ship that’s capable of reaching the [High Beyond].”
“That’s all easily done, but what transformation magic do you hope to acquire that can affect the [Hungry Shadow]?”
“Not acquire. Create,” Tessa said. “I don’t think there’s any transform spell in this world that could affect the [Hungry Shadow], but this world still hasn’t seen what a high level [Void Speaker] can do, and I think it’s time to fix that.”