Spirit Guard Serenity was not going to win a one-on-one fight with this monster without both daggers. Cell-celia had too much reach and weight with its giant antenna. She couldn’t block what was, essentially, a giant club with her small dagger. Maybe deflect it if her angle was perfect, but even if she did, what exactly would her follow-up be? Without both daggers, she somehow knew she couldn’t perform Geyser of Tranquility… which, when she thought about it, was not a very tranquil attack.
Serenity charged towards the monster’s left, hoping Charity would understand that this attack was a feint. With everything they said being broadcast in cute text bubbles above their heads, there was no way to strategize. Add to the Cell-celia’s Serenity-like empathokinetic vision, it seemed any form of misdirection was doomed to fail. Teamwork was going to be the key.
Even though it didn’t make a sound, Serenity yelled a challenge at the top of her lungs in an attempt to engage the Caps Lock of whatever was typing out her text bubbles. “ALL RIGHT, CELL-FIE! I HOPE U R READY 2 BRING IT!” She didn’t think using the text bubble to obscure Cell-celia’s vision of Charity would work, but they had to at least try it first.
Serenity felt two glints of benevolence spark into existence from behind. Her first instinct was to twitch out of their way, but she resisted. They weren’t going to hit her. Somehow, through her empathokinetic sense, she could discern the intent of Charity’s arrows, almost as if their target had been emotionally imprinted onto them. Serenity’s feint required Charity to guess what the scarlette was planning; she’d need to trust her friend’s intuition… and aim. She wasn’t sure which made her more nervous.
Cell-celia said something to Serenity but the Spirit Guard didn’t let her eyes get drawn up to the text bubble. She had to focus on fighting. The monster moved to her left to cut off Serenity’s approach, only to stop dead in its tracks. An arrow of pure light singed a few strands of scarlette as it darted just under Serenity’s right arm and narrowly missed the monster’s abdomen. The next arrow pierced straight through the text bubble above Serenity’s head; strangely, she could empathokinetically feel the text bubble get pierced. Maybe it was linked to her since it was her words being typed into it?
No. Monster. Focus.
Though the arrow had simply sailed over Serenity’s head, Cell-celia had to duck. Finally, a good reason to be short. That gave Serenity just enough of a window to dive over the monster. It’d be tight, but she’d make it.
Serenity leapt. She could feel the wind of Cell-celia’s antenna-club missing her by no more than an inch. Way too close for comfort. Regardless, she was home free. She could see her other pompom laying on top of the scattered contents of a demolished display. She just…
A surge of energy erupted behind her. It tasted like the staccato static of a cell phone call with a terrible connection. It was big. It was fast. It arced over her head like an artillery shell. It’s target was her pompom. She only had one moment to decide: dive for the pompom and risk getting hit or play it safe and duck to the side right now?
She dove right. First rule of playing a damage dealing character was stay out of the fire. Zero hit points meant zero DPS. Serenity hit the ground just in time to see a wrecking ball-sized sphere of… well, it reminded her of the gray and white static she’d see on her Grammy’s old, boxy TV. Regardless of how it looked, it crashed into her pompom and sent debris spraying in all directions.
Serenity hopped to her feet, expecting Cell-celia to press her advantage. Instead, the monster leapt for the pompom. As it did, the text bubble above her head followed and read, “Very cute bimbo! But did u think I didn’t notice yur toy over there? DROPPED CALL!”
The monster landed in front of the oddly shaped crater it had created. Like the ball of static she had fired, the crater was about the size of a wrecking ball. However, it had a pedestal of un-touched floor holding her pompom up squarely in the middle. So the pompom resisted the blast entirely? Then why did it feel like that blast would have obliterated herself? Both were empathokinetically charged…. a research topic for another day.
More rays of sunlight streaked through the air. Using its antenna-club, Cell-celia effortlessly deflected the arrows away. This was despite the monster’s unsettling cellphone-display-screen-eyes staying trained on Serenity like a rifle’s sights. However its vision worked, it was clear the eyes had little to do with it. “What’s the matter? U need this toy 2 do anything, bimbo?”
Arrow after arrow flew at the monster. Arrow after arrow ricocheted off Cell-celia’s antenna. This wasn’t working, though the volley of arrows at least gave the monster something it had to defend against. However, it was content to just wait for them to make the first move.
“I def need that if I was going 2 fight u by myself. But I’m not fighting u by myself.” Serenity charged once again. Now that Charity had her full barrage going, the monster had a choice to make: attack Serenity with her antenna and get hit by arrows, block Charity’s arrows and get hit with Serenity’s dagger, or dodge the arrows and let Serenity get her other pompom. A classic no-win situation Serenity had executed a thousand times during PvP scenarios in–
Cell-celia extended its right arm out towards Serenity as if it was signalling for her to stop. Its wicked smirk let Serenity know the situation wasn’t as no-win for Cell-celia as she thought. “DEAD ZONE!” Red plastic materialized around her arm . Another antenna extended from that plastic.
Serenity tried to stop. Momentum carried her, finally stopping only as her face stared down the antenna club as if it were the barrel of a gun. That terrible surge of static built up at the tip. “Sugar!” She tried to dodge. She wouldn’t be fast enough. She–
A wall of yellow flashed before Serenity’s eyes. A shot put-sized ball of static crashed into it; the wall shattered like a stained glass, however the projectile fizzled out. Thank Gummi for Spirit Guard Charity’s shielding bubbles. Serenity had completely forgotten about that. It gave her just enough time to scramble away as she felt another shot fire behind her. Now, with some distance, she rolled under the blast without even looking. Her extra sense let her feel the ball as clearly as if she were staring at it.
Another shot. Dart left. Serenity needed a strategy. Another shot. Backflip over. Maybe they could do some shenanigans with Charity’s bubbles? Two shots fire, but only one came for Serenity. As she ducked another blast, Serenity felt Charity’s arrow barrage cease. Seemed they were both now in full avoidance-mode. That was going to make bubble-shenanigans difficult. Especially because they still couldn’t communicate.
This was stupid. The plan had been a simple, quick, surgical strike. Now she and Charity were dodging magic-static-ball machine-gun fire. No. Not just machine-gun fire. Machine-gun fire akimbo! And Cell-celia wasn’t even looking at its shots! They were making the monster look totally badangelcake! It was one thing to be failing, but to be failing and letting the enemy look cool too? That was just salt in the wound.
Serenity kicked off the wall, staying ahead of the spray of static-death. Being able to see the entire battlefield didn’t improve the monster’s ability to predict its enemy’s movements and lead its targets. Maybe, if Serenity was lucky, she could goad the monster into firing both of its guns at her and give Charity some time to return fire. She decided to try and emotionally tilt Cell-celia. “U r bad, Cell-fie! Y do u play a skillshot class? L2P n00b!”
“I don’t even no what that means, u bimbo!” Sadly, the monster kept one antenna trained on Charity. Looks like Cell-celia had better self-control than an average gamer. This was bad. Why couldn’t this thing be as thin-skinned as Day LaMode?
Digging her fingers into a concrete support pillar, Serenity spun around like… well she could only think of one type of person who spun around on poles and she wasn’t going to mentally compare herself to that profession. Regardless, the maneuver caused three more shots to miss their mark.
This didn’t make sense. If Cell-celia could always dual-wield machine-gun antennae, why didn’t she do that the moment Serenity revealed her injury had healed? Serenity could see a reason for not doing it at the start; the monster had injured its prey and thought it could safely play with its food. At the very minimum, like Day LaMode, Cell-celia had proven it enjoyed gloating. What type of villain would it be if it didn’t? But after Serenity had shown the fight wasn’t over, and especially after Charity arrived, it should have taken things seriously and immediately used Dead Zone.
But it chose to hold that trump card back. The only strategic reason to hold something like that back would be if the monster thought revealing the new attack would prevent it from winning later. Maybe Cell-celia was worried revealing Dead Zone and Dropped Call too soon would let the other Spirit Guard prepare for it? But that didn’t make sense; if Serenity and Charity were dead, they couldn’t reveal anything. Death was the ultimate conversation stopper. So why not kill them at the start with its strongest abilities? What was its strategy here?
Then again… what if it wasn’t strategy? What if…
Serenity curved back to the wall she had kicked off earlier. With some jukes and even a ballet-like pirouette, she avoided every shot. Instead of kicking off the wall, she ran up it like a free-runner, up to the ceiling. Even with the Shrine Maiden’s training, it was no easy feat. Once near the ceiling, she leapt off the wall, flipped, and kicked off the ceiling, shooting herself to the ground like a lawn dart. A fall like this would shatter the bones of a regular person, but as a Spirit Guard, she simply landed on her hands like a gymnast and, with a simple back-handspring, returned to her feet.
She could feel the trail of Cell-celia’s bullets nearing her. She’d have to make this quick. She darted down another aisle which was immediately shredded by another flurry of static. As she ran, Serenity stared at the wall she just ran up, comparing the size of the various “bullet holes” the Dead Zone attack had created.
Sugar. The bullet holes from running up the wall were bigger than the one from when she kicked off the wall. Not a huge difference, only about an inch, but definitely bigger. The monster really was getting stronger the longer the fight went. How much time had passed between kicking off the wall and running up it? About thirty-seconds, maybe? And it had increased a whole inch? If it increased an inch in diameter every thirty seconds… no, that was wrong. The dent in the wall was created by a sphere, not a circle. The increase in dent would be volumetric so you’d have to cube it and…
And she had to focus. She could sit down and do math later. And though it galled her to admit it, Serenity knew she would do the math later. This was an interesting rate-of-change problem she couldn’t ignore. Regardless, the point was that this cellular virus had to be spreading even faster than Serenity had guessed, and she had assumed it would be pretty bad.
Serenity stopped her musings as felt the tip of the Cell-celia’s antenna swing wide. She was trying cut Serenity off. The scarlette slid under the spray of static like a baseball player trying to steal second base.
It suddenly made sense why Cell-celia didn’t use Dead Zone earlier. Dead Zone required two antennae, something the monster clearly couldn’t manifest until it got more energy from the citizens from Kessia City. It had to hit a certain power threshold before it could use a new ability, almost like it was…
Like it was leveling up.
It was, in some ways, a dumb comparison. This wasn’t a video game. The monster wasn’t literally hitting levels that arbitrarily granted access to new abilities. As magical as empathokinetics and empathokinetic constructs felt, there was clearly some process, some set of rules, that they abided by. Any new attacks would be governed by the monster having gained enough power to support the empathokinetic load that attack would require. However that comparison made Serenity realize just how bad this could get.
What was to say Dead Zone was the only new attack Cell-celia would learn? If it could keep “leveling up” and gaining new attacks mid-battle then Serenity couldn’t afford to slowly piece together a new plan. She needed to do something and do it now…
And yet, that type of thinking was what had originally got Serenity in this mess. She hadn’t originally considered that this monster might have been tailored to counter her. It made sense that Platicore would do that. People often overcorrected to deal with the last thing that beat them, regardless of what beat them every other time before last. As she thought more about it, she could see that Cell-celia was just as designed to counter Serenity as hard as Serenity had countered Day LaMode.
Day LaMode had been unable to find Serenity; Cell-celia saw through solid matter and invisibility. Day LaMode fought with her fists, allowing Serenity to get in close with her daggers; Cell-celia fought with long antennae that kept Serenity at a distance. Day LaMode was weak-minded and easily goaded into disadvantageous situations; Cell-celia was far more disciplined and held her ground. And most importantly, Day LaMode revealed all her abilities early and couldn’t adapt to Serenity’s style. Cell-celia on the other hand got stronger as the fight went, manifesting new abilities, making it impossible for Serenity to come up with a good counter-plan.
As Serenity side-flipped over then ducked under more bullets, she knew she had to make a decision: attack now to stop Cell-celia from getting stronger or let Cell-celia get stronger and wait for reinforcements? She had no way of knowing how long it would take for Angela, Mal, or Vivian to get here. Cory and Eli had been fairly certain neither Vivian or Mal would even be coming. Could she risk waiting? If she waited too long, it would become like fighting a raid boss in Aspect Realms that would start one-shotting everyone in the party if they were not killed by a certain time.
At the same time, what in the past few minutes told Serenity that she and Charity could mount an offensive of any kind? They had no way of coordinating. No amount of obfuscation would allow them to execute a sneak attack. And unless they could figure out a way to get past Cell-celia’s barrage, Serenity had no special abilities to use. Any charge on Cell-celia right now would likely fail and could get them injured or worse. And if that happened, they’d be letting the monster win without even giving the Spirit Guard a chance to help.
Serenity danced between projectiles and decided she would wait for reinforcements. Urgency and rushing things had only made the situation worse. Sometimes, in a battleground, the best move was to simply wait for numbers to back you up. Sure, it was risky. But neither decision was particularly risk-free. And if she didn’t wait, she’d be a hypocrite. How many times had she complained about teammates in battlegrounds trying to solo groups of players on their own?
Every monster before Day LaMode had been taken down through teamwork… no, Eli had been right. Serenity hadn’t taken down Day LaMode on her own. If the other Spirit Guard hadn’t been there, Serenity would have been bodied by a mob of mannequins before she could have touched the pronoun-deficient monster. So she would do what she should have done at the start: be patient and give her teammates a chance to help.
She only hoped she wasn’t dead by the time that help arrived.