Their first battle was more than they bargained for. A lot more. Tessa remembered where the [Iron Lancers] were and she remembered the solution to the puzzle that would have let the party bypass them. Armed with foreknowledge and the ability to initiate the fight on their own terms, Tessa’s party should have been able to handle their foes without a problem. Had they been high enough level that might even have happened.
“Six of them is too much,” Obby said. “We need to thin their numbers down.”
“Trying!” Rip said as she unleashed a [Storm’s Torrent] on the [Iron Lancer] Obby was primarily focused on.
The hail of magically enhanced arrows that tore into the metal plated shell of the Lancer’s body left dents but did little to slow it down.
“Don’t worry about me,” Starchild said. “The [Heartfire’s] near. Save your healing and I’ll just respawn to get back in the fight.”
“I can help,” Glimmerglass said, her staff at the ready in front of her.
“Not yet!” Tessa said, “We need to get xps out of these things more than we need to survive.”
As if to prove Tessa’s point, the [Iron Lancer] that Starchild was struggling against unleashed a [Cerberus Burst] on her, stabbing so fast it’s spear seemed to vibrate into three spears that all landed simultaneously, over and over.
Starchild’s perforated corpse hit the ground with a messy thud. They had healing magic which could have restored even that level of catastrophic damage but fighting things as tough as the [Iron Lancers] was a resources game and the party’s resources were already stretched to the breaking point.
“No Hounds from here to the [Heart Fire] it looks like,” Starchild called out.
“I’m keeping an eye and ear out too,” Pete added. “It sounds like they’re all outside the castle still.”
“I lost another [Iron Lancer],” Obby said as a healing spell restored her left arm to functionality.
The Lancer in question was making a beeline towards Matt, probably because he’d been layering debuffs on it since the start of the fight.
“We’ll bring him back,” Rip said.
She fired an [Thunder Shot] at the approaching Lancer at the same time as Matt cast a [Sleepless Exhaustion] spell at it.
Their attacks were beautifully timed, each reading the others unspoken intent in the moment it moved from thought to action.
The synergy between them was enough to give their attacks some weight. The Lancer staggered for a second and went down on knee.
Sadly, that second didn’t last. The Lancer twitched and rose to its feet, a fresh surge of power pulsing from the seemingly indestructible molten heart in the center of its chest.
Rip and Matt could have followed up their attack, but it would have been a fatal choice. None of their attacks had proven capable of destroying the [Iron Lancers] while the Lancers possessed an astounding array of one-shot kill abilities.
Instead, Rip took Matt’s hand and blurred into a sheet of lightning, flashing past the Lancers faster than even their hypersonic reflexes could handle. Together the Tabbywile and Metal Mechanoid skidded to a stop on the far side of the defensive line Obby and Starchild has been struggling to hold.
“We need a new strategy,” Lisa said. “We’re burning mp too quickly to sustain this for the whole group.”
She and Lady Midnight were pouring spell after spell into Obby to keep her on her feet, and were keeping ahead of the incoming damage, if just barely.
“Kiting?” Wrath Raven said. “She’s fast.”
It wasn’t an uncommon ploy, and often the first one [Adventurers] thought of when they were faced with something too difficult to smash down directly. In this case however, Tessa knew it wouldn’t work.
“She is. If we need to stall and reset, we can try it, but we’re not pressuring them enough as it is. If we start kiting our dps is going to tank even further.”
“I can take an offensive posture when I rejoin the fight,” Starchild said.
“Take one out, retreat and repeat?” Lisa suggested.
“Maybe,” Tessa said. “We’re close enough to do that if we can survive their [Blade Blizzard] when they hit half health.”
“You have a better idea though, I can hear it in your voice,” Lisa said.
“Not better,” Tessa said. “But it might let us win the fight in one go.”
“I would not mind getting through this sooner rather than latter,” Obby said.
“I trust you,” Lisa said. “What can we do?”
“Obby how solid is their attention on you now?” Tessa asked.
“I’d rate it at jello level solidity,” Obby said. “If I’m feeling optimistic.”
“That’ll have to do I guess,” Tessa said. “Keep the healing on Obby okay. If I get hit, so be it. I can make a ghost run the same as Starchild did, and I might learn something in the process.”
“Try not to get hit,” Lisa said, though she kept all of her magic focused on Obby.
Tessa nodded and stepped out from behind the cover of Wrath Raven’s bulky form.
She was tempted to have Wrath pitch her at the Lancers. It would have been the fastest option for getting to them, and it was a mode of travel the Lancers wouldn’t be expecting.
Instead though, she walked.
Slowly, relaxing her shoulders and face muscles with each step.
She wasn’t a warrior charging into battle.
What she was doing wasn’t a big deal.
She was hardly a threat to anyone.
She just had a message to deliver.
The Lancers, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t react to her at all.
Skill gained: [Presence of the Void]!
Tessa kept the smirk off her fact. An invisibility power was always good. One that worked on enemies you were engaged with in combat that? That was just horribly broken.
Even with the Lancers ignoring her though, getting within arm’s reach of the one the rest of the team was bombarding was difficult. A spear thrust that wasn’t aimed at you could still ruin your day if you happened to be in the path it was redirected onto by a parry or a shield block.
Tessa tapped on her arm, checking it to make sure it was still as sturdy as when she’d put it on. It had grown with her as she leveled as so was roughly strong enough to bounce a tank shell without letting her come to harm. Sadly that was still vastly weaker than Obby’s or Pillowcase’s armor and Obby was getting fairly savagely mauled by the attacks she was absorbing.
Skill gained: [Personal Field: Dark Radiance]
Tessa blinked as shimmering purple and blue light wrapped around her. It didn’t obscure her vision, if anything it sharpened it, but she could feel a weight to glow, like she was wearing a suit of solid plate armor.
“Is that your new trick?” Lisa asked.
“One of them,” Tessa said.
“How long have you been able to do that?” Lady Midnight asked.
“About ten seconds now,” Tessa said.
“What? You just got that? How?” Pete asked as Starchild returned to the fray.
“I’ve been leveling up a lot in the last few days, but I wasn’t spending any time as a [Void Speaker] so my abilities weren’t set yet.”
“What do you mean ‘not set’?” Starchild asked.
“The class abilities I’m getting don’t seem to be preset like the ones for [Guardian] or [Archer] are,” Tessa said. “I had a theory that they’re developing in response to my needs. Sort of like having a bunch of blank slots that you can fill in as you go.”
“Wait, why not fill them with an ‘I Win’ button?” Lady Midnight asked.
“I don’t think that’s possible,” Tessa said. “I don’t have any hard data on this obviously, but it feels like the powers need to ‘fit’ if that makes sense. Like if I got an ability slot at 15th level, the power that goes into it needs to be similar to other level 15 powers.”
“But maybe just a little bit better,” Lisa said. “We’ve all seen how new things wind up benefiting from a ton of power creep. I mean, that’s why I went for [Grave Mender] as a class. I wanted to prove the broken bits weren’t so good that they made my main worthless.”
“Better or weirder right?” Rip asked. “I remember that [Fracture] ability you have. That doesn’t seem like anything the rest of us got at level 5.”
“Yeah. [Void Speaker] seems to be specialized in weird stuff. I’m guessing this armor won’t be as strong as any of Obby’s [Guardian] shield powers.”
“I’d be happy to trade places with you if it is,” Obby lied.
“Funny you should say that,” Tessa said. “Because I do have another trick up my sleeves. Pillowcase: Skill sharing: [Blessing of Blood].”
No visible change came over Tessa’s features, but in her veins a song began to play as Pillowcase’s [Soul Knight] magics took root in her.
In her mind, her perspective shifted, her vision coloring as though she was looking through both Tessa and Pillowcase’s eyes at the same time.
“Now to see if I can really reach for what I need,” Tessa said, stepping forward with the same lack of aggression in her thoughts.
She wasn’t going to destroy the [Iron Lancers].
She was just bringing them a message.
Words that wanted to reach them.
Spears flashed past her as she moved forward.
Obby’s blade nearly skewered her through the ear.
But nearly wasn’t worth worrying about.
She had a message to deliver.
Words she needed to speak.
“[Touch of Endless Hunger]”, she said, hoping it would work as she imagined.
Skill gained: [To-ch of E-dl-ss Hu-g-r…
Skill gained: [T-uch – – En-les- H-ng-r..
“[Touch of Endless Hunger],” Tessa said, pitting herself against what felt like the whole world.
It wasn’t the world that was speaking to her.
It was something that never should have been a part of the world
Something far distant.
Something that was still inside her.
Just a tiny bit. An unmeasurable small piece that she’d ripped off.
It was a thing without a proper name.
It only possessed a description.
A label for things of its kind, even though it was alone.
It needed a name.
It had threatened her.
It had hurt her and the people she cared for.
It needed a name so it would know that she was coming for it.
Tessa felt the [Hungry Shadow] retreat from the point of creation where her ability was being forged.
Except it wasn’t a [Hungry Shadow] anymore.
It was broken?
It was…something more and less than it had been.
It was changing. It knew fear now, and the prospect of a name scared it more than anything else in all of this creation ever could.
Skill gained: [Touch of Endless Hunger]
Tessa felt something shift around her.
Nothing had changed? Oh that was far from true.
Nothing important to most people? Yes.
Everything for someone though? Most definitely.
Within the world, there were now words carved into its fundamental reality which defined and limited Hungers. Formeless, Shadowy, Broken. It didn’t matter what sort of entity they became. The world was wrapping around them. Hunger, even [Endless Hunger] had a quantifiable meaning now. The engines of the world could compute its existence. Could define interactions with it.
It was no longer a corrosive impossibility. It was part of the world. A tool someone could use. Something that could be defended against.
Not by the [Iron Lancers] however.
At Tessa’s touch the Lancer in front of her staggered, it’s armor cracking and shattering.
It wasn’t a one hit kill. All she’d done was weaken it, reducing it’s defenses to a point where Rip’s next [Storm’s Torrent] blasted away a good thirty percent of its health.
In game terms it was an incredibly strong debuff. Easily one of the most devastating ones any character of Tessa’s level could inflict.
But only one of. There were many other powers that could rival it and that was the key.
She hadn’t won the battle for them, and that was the best news she could have hoped for, because it meant their foe was going to be just as limited as she was.
And it didn’t have the friends she did.