“Team 7 and Team 9, set up near Darling Point! Team 12 and 18, join up with the militia at Point Piper. Get Team 4 to rest up while Team 11 takes up flight-buffs.”
Gunther barked out orders to the remaining Tower Mages as the rising tsunami bore down upon the city.
The Evacuation Siren had gone out almost an hour ago, but even so, the city was in a mess due to the jamming of long-range communication. Without the Tower itself to operate the mass teleportation circles, the movement of Mages throughout the city stalled to a standstill.
Gunther felt a swell of frustration trampling his patience.
Even with a hundred or so Tower Mages, there was no way for the city to be defended without the fortress hovering above it, bringing in casualties and sending out fresh combatants. All Gunther could do was try to slow the advance of the Mermen while someone else - hopefully his Master, Magister Ferris, or perhaps even Alesia, managed to access the magical fortress and wrestle back its controls.
The magically generated tsunami was not as powerful as one created by natural forces, but it would suffice for the intended task. Already, the tide was receding from the shoreline, giving the impression of a man drawing back an arm for a king-punch.
Gunther observed the city from his vantage point. The Leviathan was likely going to make landfall near Elizabeth Bay, using the momentum of its mass to penetrate into the heart of the city. Once the giant crustacean made landfall, its shells would erupt to reveal canal pods filled with malicious Mermen with their coral tridents and naturally endowed claws and chitinous armour.
Man on Crab, a NoM had no chance against a Mermen warrior, not even the fish-headed Kuo-toa. Against a Mage though, even a low-tier Evoker, not even a dozen Mermen were a threat, assuming the Mage was sufficiently shielded and protected by his allies.
The Militia, which was a gathering of able-bodied Mages and NoMs from various walks of life, varied from suburb to suburb, council to council. In Mage affluent areas like Double Bay or Elizabeth Bay, there were everything from retired Maguses to entire families of Mages. Conversely, should the Mermen penetrate into NoM affluent areas like Surry Hills or Redfern, they would have little to no contest in ‘harvesting’ the spoils of war.
Decades ago, during the Coral Sea War, Gunther had questioned a captured Mermen Prince when they raided a human settlement on the Brisbane Line. The answers he’d received from the intelligent Cephalopod was as mundane as it was blatant. Humans encroached on their waters. Humans ate their young and hunted them. Humans desecrated the holy sea. It was no different from the rationales given by the Saurians. What was interesting though, as Gunther had uncovered in his later campaigns, was that the Mermen were not one clan, but hundreds of ocean-dwelling races which humans merely universally called the Mermen. For the 'Mermen', warring on humans was a way to unite the races, much in the same manner that Dark Age humanity once avoided total War in Europe by organising the sectarian conflict known as the Crusades.
Gunther watched his teams spread throughout the harbour, taking up positions and stringing together rag-tag bands of militia-men and women emerging from the offices and the seaside suburbs. These areas were supposed to be the safest zones in Sydney, protected by the largest, most robust Shielding Stations. Under the unfortunate circumstance of the present, however, they were the most exposed positions within the path of the Mermen incursion.
The crest of water was now breaking, revealing the gargantuan spines of the Leviathan. Its carapace glinted magnificently in the afternoon sun, refracting a scintillating play of colours refracting off its vibrant coral hills and crevasses. The entire Leviathan, when fully unearthed, stretched out about four football fields. From head to tail, the pea-brained relative of the dragon-whale measured close to a kilometre.
Gunther couldn’t even begin to imagine how such a creature could be fed and kept in captivity, and yet the Mermen had found a way. Each time a significant offensive was mounted upon a human city, one of these creatures would be dredged from the deep sea and brought to bear; powering through humanity's defences by dumb, brute force. Once out of the water, the creature would inevitably die from its crushing weight, but before its violent demise, it would wreck unstoppable havoc upon the infrastructure of Sydney itself.
Gunther clicked his tongue distastefully and began to focus his mind.
The Radiant Magus produced a diamond as large as a quail’s egg in one hand. Layered glyphs appeared below his feet and stacked into an elaborate mandala. Gunther concentrated his will until he could feel every facet of the carefully cut diamond within his cognisance.
He released the first layer of the mandala. It formed into a convex illusion that bent his powerful Radiant energy into a single point. A second layer of the illusion allowed for the adjustment of his Radiant Blast’s range, while a further third layer of the same spell served to magnify its radius.
Gunther's Ritual Magic consumed the priceless diamond - an offering to the Radiant beings that made their home in the Quasi-elemental Plane of Light. Gunther shook the dust from his hands and took in a deep breath. He had only a small window of opportunity to make his move.
* * *
Jasper Boone watched grimly as the water receded past even the sandbar, revealing thousands of gasping fish and hundreds more stranded crabs astoundingly waving their claws at the suddenly exposed air.
The crest was breaking now, and the fresh-faced young man could see the Leviathan begin to emerge.
“We gonna be alright here Sarge?” he asked the uniformed man beside him, an old veteran Mage who’d survived darker times.
“Yeah, we’ll be alright Jas,” Bret ‘Sarge’ Sawyer mouthed, patting his pockets for something to smoke but finding none. His wife had made him quit in the nineties, citing that she’d liked to see him live to a ripe old age. Going cold turkey had been the worst time of his life; looking back now, all that effort felt like such a crock of shit. He regarded the nervous gathering of Mages beside him and did his best to calm them down. “It ain’t coming here, but we’ll be getting our share of Mermen, don’t you worry.”
The militia squad that was with him were all young workers. Mages who worked for this department or that utility company. They all had their military training, but almost two decades of peace had left the Frontier Militia bereft of men and women who were blooded and experienced. Most of these Mages had hardly left the office after their mandatory service. Even those who were freshly out couldn't be counted as veterans. Hunting Goblins in the woods, or taking up Island-Purging missions hardly counted for the total war waged by a true Mermen incursion. Unlike the low cunning of the woodland critters, these fearless fish-headed goons were malicious and tenacious, capable of fighting even when they were half blown apart by spells. Once, in his youth, Bret had seen a half torn crustacean lunge into a trench and chop a man in half with a single swipe of its remaining claw.
Bret considered his rag-tag assortment of men and women. Their group had about five low-tier Evokers, a few Transmuters, two Abjurers, one Illusionist, and himself, who was a Diviner. Not that he could cast his spells though, Bret cursed silently. Some magical interference had gone out over the city, cutting his functional spells in half. Only detection spells and minor buffs seemed to operate - he had lost all his Message spells and Scrying abilities.
Behind them were about a hundred or so NoMs who volunteered to stay with them, forming a logistic line that ferried equipment and erected palisades behind the trenches. Across the bay from Cremorne Point, he could see the military itself setting up a primary blockade that stretched from the Rocks to Woolloomooloo. The Transmuters were setting up vertical levy-breaks which would slow the Leviathan, while battle teams of five or six were set up across the city, positioned on rooftops of in pre-buffed flight teams.
Below the skyscrapers, Bret could spy the Enchanted Siege Engines - gigantic Iron Golems, which would be used to beat back the Dragon Turtles and other gargantuan beasts that would inevitably make landfall. That was the way the war had been fought in the past. Mage teams were responsible for purging the small fry, Maguses against the Mermen Priests and Casters, while above, the Magisters dealt out spells of mass destruction.
When they had time to plan and execute strategies, the military worked like a well-oiled clockwork artefact.
Unfortunately, there was nothing to indicate the Tower or the Military had any inkling that this doomsday event was upon them. Even now, there were distant screams as NoMs and non-combatant Mages made for shelters or evacuated inland.
Bret patted his pockets again and cursed his old habit. He was behaving much too nervously; it would only reduce the morale of his men. Lord knows that they would need every advantage, whether mental, physical, or spiritual, and here he was, making a cock-up of the whole thing.
“Sarge?” A female voice interrupted his thoughts. A young woman with ash-blonde hair had found a packet of smokes from one of the other recruits and was offering him a cigarette.
The water had ceased its recession. It was now pushing forward. The dispelled enchantment surrounding the Leviathan was revealing its full form, exposing a whale-like body covered in blubber hardened by the purple-grey carapace, smothered by bits of coral and shellfish. The mindless creature appeared to be in enormous pain already; the falling seawater meant that it had lost the buoyancy required to keep its organs from crushing one another.
Yet, some magical compulsion drove it forward, its great momentum propelling it onto the now waterless seabed as its clawed flippers scribbled for purchase and its tentacled tail thrashed insanely. In a moment, the water would crash and cascade, shaped by the nascent powers of the Mermen Priests to throw itself against the city, paving the way for a final tidal rush that would drive the Leviathan deep into the city's centre. There, the damned thing would shed its cargo of warriors, who would rampage throughout the human settlement, taking crystals, materials, and more importantly: men and women, ideally Mages, back into the depth when the water inevitably retreated.
What uses the Mermen had for those they captured, Bret had no idea. He possessed little desire to find out. As he had already told his fellow Mages, there was only death or glory here, to be captured by these savages was a fate far worse than losing one’s life.
Bret took a cigarette from the girl’s packet and stuck it behind his ear.
“For later,” he assured her. “We’ll survive this yet.”
“I hope you’re serious, Serge,” Jasper, the poor, innocent sod joked nervously.
“Of course!” Bret blustered confidently.
He disliked the lie he had just told. Like a tell, his right hand went searching in his pockets. The blonde girl coughed and offered the packet again, watching Bret grunt approvingly to mask his embarrassment.
The old veteran took another cigarette from the packet and looked around for a light. Bret was sure one of the Evokers was a fire Mage.
“Got a light?”
One of the young men flicked his fingers.
The low, grey clouds suddenly parted.
A beam of radiant light, so bright as to sting their eyes and burn a blinding line across their retina, shot from the heavens and down towards the Leviathan.
It caught the beast just as its armoured head emerged from the wave, a neckless, triangular thing with a dozen eyes the size of cars, five-storeys in height, protruding from its bulbous, blubbery body.
Upon initial impact, there was a roaring hiss, as though the surface of the Leviathan’s carapace had become a sizzling hot plate, chunks of coral and shellfish falling from its ancient surface in a cascade of cooked seafood.
Then the beam suddenly adjusted itself, becoming a thin line that assumed an intensity so brilliant that all of them had to shield their eyes lest they lost their vision permanently.
Behind the silhouette cast by his hand, Bret heard a wet, sickening crunch, the sound of carapace popping and erupting as the superheated flesh beneath violently erupted.
The Sun Beam persisted for a few more moments, then dimmed and died.
“Coor! Serge! Look! The fucker’s well cooked!” Jasper sounded as though he was about to piss himself; such was the vigour of his excitement.
Bret allowed himself the luxury of slowly opening his eyes. The sea that had been held back was now sloshing back into the bay. The radiant blast from the heavens had pierced the head of the Leviathan, utterly decimating its impenetrable armour.
When the old veteran took another look, he realised that 'pierce' was not quite the right description.
Cooked, Bret thought to himself; the Leviathan had been overcooked by whatever force of Radiance that had struck the creature, causing the white flesh within to erupt as its brain boiled.
Its entire head was now a bubbling mess of wet flesh and steaming seawater. The gaping cranial wound where the beam had struck was red and cracked. Its enormous body, which had been so tense and so vital a moment prior, was now slack and inanimate. The Leviathan's claw-flippers no longer propelled itself forward. Having lost the driving force of its mountainous musculature, only the momentum of the surrounding water compelled it to crash ahead, dredging the seafloor as it shovelled on.
Thankfully, the sea was no longer sufficient in pushing its body; the thing was grinding to a ponderous halt, stopped by the weight of its own body.
Could the creature be stopped before it reached the city?
Bret prayed to whatever Magister that was up on those clouds, that they had another God-ray ready, for when the creature ceased its movement, an ocean of Mermen would pour forth from its carcass like lice off a dying mongrel.
A warm wind of stinking, cooked shellfish washed over the crew. Some of the men and the women vomited, but most of them held their guts intact.
Bret raised the trembling cigarette up to his lips.
He took a long, hard drag.
* * *
The Kraken had latched onto the sea cliffs overlooking Rosebay and was unloading its cargo of Mermen. The tentacles of the damned thing were enormous, flinging pods of shellfish that crashed into the Cathedral and its surroundings, rolling into hapless Mages who were too slow to flee from their path.
Unfortunately for the defenders, they did not possess battle-engines or golems capable of repelling such primitive attacks.
The six-storey tall squid was assaulting the Cathedral-fortress in the most primal manner possible - with absolute brute force. Having attached itself to the escarpment; the cunning creature had a range that far exceeded the defender's own.
The surrounded Mages scattered here and there, only to realise in the next moment that the damned shellfish landing amongst them were oysters that opened to reveal disorientated Mermen baying for Mage-flesh.
Alesia immediately took it upon herself to hold down the Kraken, chugging down three pots of Mana potions to top up her reserves. She was already well-drained from the battle with Elizabeth and saw no reason to preserve her potion cool-downs when a red-skinned cephalopod was raining down Mermen from the ocean towards them.
The rest of the students, the seniors and the Mages who were with Ferris, formed a battle line atop the Cathedral. The Abjurers had already activated the monastery fortresses’ defences, fortifying its walls and creating a localised defence shield that warded away elemental attacks.
Their ration of mana cores, however, was woefully undersupplied. Since the creation of the Shield Stations meant that the immediate coastal regions were safe; few of the existing fortresses of old kept stockpiles on hand.
With every oyster that struck the reinforced sandstone, the structure shuddered, sending up a wave of screams and squeals from the younger girls sheltered within.
For Gwen and company, their immediate job was the hunt down Mermen who were flung into the courtyard and the Cathedral’s interior. Unlike new fortifications which used adaptive Shielding, the old fortresses lacked hard shields that prevented physical assaults through its airspace. The assumption was that the defenders would have deployed flights of Mages to gain aerial superiority. It was the usual tactic utilised by humanity - not even against dragon-kind did Mages yield that precious combat zone.
Below, a maddening melee ensured.
It was against these rubbery skinned, hard-shelled monsters that Gwen’s Lightning element was finally showing it’s true colours. Dressed in an armoured battle-robe that stank of blood, sweat, and seafood; sporting a full bandoleer of mana and health potions, she summoned Ariel, her Warding Orbs, Morden's Hound, Lightning Tentacles, and her Conjured Storm all at once.
Each time a group of creatures accosted the lithe lightning sorceress, a cascade of Tyrian purple and azure electricity flooded forth from Gwen that left no quarter.
She was likewise well protected. Elvia had buffed her with Bless and Aid, and Whetu had given her Resistant Elements as well as Protection from Projectiles.
When a car-sized oyster bounced off the sandstone walls and landed beside them; Gwen’s convergence of Lighting had struck it with such force and tenacity that it liquified the occupants.
"Jesus, I am going to be sick!" Yue made a gagging motion as the oyster spewed forth a mess of mangled carapace and rubbery flesh.
That was the exact boon of the Lighting element in a fight against Monsters. Apart from its paralysing effects, electricity had the additional effect of ignoring the natural armour of the creatures.
Yue’s flames, likewise, were highly effective against the creatures, though far more effective against soft, rather than hard-shelled targets.
Debora acted as the girl’s bodyguard, smashing apart the fish-headed Kua-Toa that tried to disrupt their spells and cracking open the shells of lobster and crab-men alike, entrapping them with her sand snares and slowing them when an oyster-pod spewed forth its cargo.
Whetu and Elvia stayed behind Gwen, as the other teams lacked Abjurers and Healers, helping the Rosebay girls who did their best to clear the cloister and the surrounding areas so that the younger students could be safely evacuated into the confines of the catacombs. There, waiting in the dimly lit corridors, they were safe, waiting to be teleported into the safety of the Tower.
“Lightning Bolt!” Gwen incanted again, watching a line of electricity take down three Mermen at once, one of the prawns' head popping like a ripe melon.
Debora was squaring off against a heavily armoured Mermen in the guise of a king crab, wielding its massive claw as a shield as it menaced her dangerously. The Transmuter tried several times to penetrate its shield with Ground Spike to no avail.
"Debbie! To me!"
Knowingly, Debora retreated.
As the Merman pursued, an invisible hound emerged from the aether and struck the creature's core, its electrical fangs tearing away at its carapace. Though paralysed, the vitality of the monster proved too much even for the lightning assault.
“Caliban! Take care of it!”
Caliban likewise, proved to be a mighty boon. Possessing the ability to negate hard armour, it launched itself from Gwen's shadow and latched onto the terrified crab-man via the means of a vorpal tongue that dug into its chest.
Elvia shot Gwen a charge of positively charged mana as Caliban closed the gap between itself and the crab, propelling itself by retracting its tensile tongue. The crab-man screamed indistinctly as Caliban burrowed in with a gluttonous tenacity, emerging a moment later with a core which it crushed and swallowed hungrily.
Gwen felt her vitality restore a little. Between Elvia and Caliban, she could probably keep the wee beastie going for a while yet. The problem was that Caliban was only a single nightmarish creature from the horrors of the void, where everywhere they were inundated by dozens or more of the damned fishheads with each passing moment.
How was Alesia doing? Gwen’s mind turned to her friend and sister-in-craft. So long as the Kraken lived, there would be endless cohorts of these mindless Mermen hellbent on trying to harvest their Mage flesh.
* * *
Alesia, meanwhile, was doing her best.
As desperate as her quest to absolve Gwen's danger was, she was occupied by a welcoming party that was anticipating her as soon as she flew within the range of their spells.
Half-a-dozen Mermen Priests were riding atop the Kraken and flinging a fusillade of spells at her even before she approached within a hundred meters. Ice Spears, Blizzards, Water Bolts, Jet Blasts, it took every ounce of Alesia’s combat intuition to duck and weave through the air without turning into a pincushion for watery projectiles.
Alesia attempted to initiate a reposite, but was half a second too slow. An Ice Bolt skimmed her and activated her reactive Flame Shield.
She knew what the cursed fish-heads were trying to do. They were trying to incapacitate her, slow her, so that she would be easy prey for a boulder toss from the Kraken or the Mermen below. She wanted nothing more than to throw them a sweet little Delayed Blast Fireball or perhaps initiate a Blade Barrier, but the damn spells had a range of 90 to 150 feet. She was kited by their barrage each time she tried to get within range.
Several times she tried to penetrate their barrage, but each time she was beaten back.
“Garr! These cunning pieces of amphibian shit!” Alesia screamed at them. If Taj was here, he could have tanked their feeble spells while Alesia approached or readied a spell of mass destruction.
Just as she was wondering if she should just risk it and Blink in, a Message spell bloomed close to her ear.
“Magus de Botton!” a voice called out beside her ear.
Alesia felt her heart suddenly soar. Was the Message System back in service? She tried to activate her device, but her heart dropped when it failed to respond.
“This is Ferris!” the voice spoke again. “I am using a L.O.S Message spell to communicate with you.”
“I need help!” Alesia confessed. She didn’t want to, but they had to get rid of the Kraken somehow. There was no way Ferris would agree to use her personal key to teleport them into the Tower when the children were not yet safe. “Help me take care of this thing, and we can all get to the Tower!”
“That’s precisely what I had in mind.” Ferris’ voice was commanding and assured. “I still have two hundred kids in here. The Cathedral is not going to hold out once the main swarm gets here.”
“What can you do?” Alesia demanded.
“I am going to create a diversion!”
Alesia felt the air around her shimmer.
There were first two, then three, then four of her, all realistic and identical in every way. She touched one and was surprised to find that the false Alesia had a flesh and blood body.
“It’s a Mirrored Simulacrum,” Ferris explained. “They're going to be the distraction. I am going to glamour you with an Advanced Invisibility, but it will dispel if you use high-tier spells. Is that enough for you to get close?”
“It'll do.” Alesia grinned, assuring the Magister confidently. "They literally won't know what hit em."
“Right, here goes!”
There was an obscure glimmer as the light around Alesia displaced itself, masking her presence.
“Good hunting!” Ferris’ Message cut out, she was having her hands full maintaining three Simulacrums.
A master of Illusion. Alesia felt a sudden paranoia that Ferris may have been a part of what had entrapped Henry, but when she’d given it another moment of thought, it was highly improbable.
Ferris had been beside her Master almost the entire time, and though Alesia did not trust herself to see through Ferris, she entrusted Henry's intuition. The Illusion spell had also felt alien and different to the ones that were taught in the Tower, possessing a quality that suggested the caster was of foreign origin. Having just now experienced Ferris’ Invisibility buff, she felt that the Illusion at the cloister was distinctly different.
Alesia cast her doubts aside and set herself to the task at hand. She was Henry's hammer, and that was enough. Once the Kraken was down, they could enter the Tower and seek out Walken. Once the Tower was restored, they could repel the tide of Mermen, and all would be well.
She took a deep breath.
Already the Simulacrums were moving in rapidly, cutting across the air expertly with the same grace and dexterity that Alesia herself possessed. They were even flinging low-level incantations like Fireballs as they dodged and waved through the spells and tentacles.
Alesia materialised a ruby-laden dagger in one hand, an exotic blade with sinuous designs of engraved flames that seemed not of terrestrial origin. Its handle and pommel were encrusted with rubies the size of pigeon eggs, priceless jewels by any measure.
She took another deep breath.
The price of power was high - the deposit paid in blood.
“O Efreet, spirit of flames, heed my call…”
A glyph appeared beneath Alesia’s feet, three circles bisection to form a triplicate mandala, spinning faster and faster until it created a direct channel into the Elemental Plane of Fire. The air around Alesia instantly ignited, her clothing erupting and burning away to reveal her pale and naked flesh. The spectacle lasted only half a second - for in the next moment, the channelled heat from the Elemental Plane of Fire drew into her body.
The dagger bit into the palm of her hand, her blood was magma, her eyes became two golden orbs of firelight.
She was now flame-clad, a sensuous Djinn native to the land of primal fire, whose bellowing hair flinging out behind her formed a warm of buzzing firefly embers.
“Alrighty then, you fish-faced fucks,” she muttered vehemently, her eyes glaring at the Kraken and its writhing form. “Let me remind you of the terror that is the Coral Sea War.”