The curse was proving to be most potent.
Caught in its power, she was sans sight, sans taste, sans smell and sans touch. She couldn't even orientate herself, tell which way was up.
"Evee Evee Evee EVEE!"
But— she could hear herself think, and that was the important thing.
Compared to her previous affliction, the Arch-Hag's spell was perfect, for it made Gwen face a prospect she loathed more than any other, her overactive imagination.
"Just know that curses, illusions and Enchantments aren't all-powerful," she recalled Petra's advice. "You can skirt around them through discipline and distraction. The first thing they teach in mental domination is how to resist total incapacitation."
Discipline wasn't her forte, but presently, she had distractions plenty.
Evee... she calmed herself. El-Vee-Ya.
With a silent word, she activated a Void variant of Gunther's Shield. Then, calmly absorbing the dogged vitality of the Soul Eater, she let loose Caliban.
Her feverish mind cooled.
Her mana conduits grew hot and cold. Despite the induced sensory oblivion of the curse, her empathic links activated.
After that, she connected Link Sight via Ariel.
A wide-angle vista of her present surroundings came into focus.
She couldn't see, but she was no longer senseless. Ariel provided sight through its sky-blue orbs, while Caliban's mass of feelers gave her more tactile sense than was proper for a mortal woman.
A few seconds later, the hallucination ramped up its intensity. As anticipated, Elvia's angelic face appeared, begging for release from torturous agony. Taking Petra's advice, she instead channelled her misery into happy thoughts.
Evee awaits in London! Gwen told herself. All I have to do is WIN.
Her sanity thus preserved, she set to work. First, the guards had to go. The elemental resistance of the Hags was outrageous, while their guards deterred physical attacks.
"Cali! Get rid of the Brutalisers!"
As if on command, one of her targets chose suicide by Caliban.
The Brutalisers screamed for sweet death. Caliban burped. The other brute, smarter than the average Troll, turned and fled.
Ariel took to the air, broadening her view of the battle.
Seeing herself shielded in a vitality-fed Void egg, Gwen wondered whether she resembled a budget-Sobel. From the sky, she could also see the Hags empowering the horde of Trolls, riling up the crowd to rail against Caliban.
Thrown weapons crunched against Caliban's body, making holes the size of sewer covers. A few may have struck her egg, for she felt her vitality fluctuate. Anticipating the payoff from the Brutaliser, however, Gwen welcomed the abuse, hoping that she could dispense enough to keep herself on her feet.
"SHAA!" Caliban slithered toward the topless Hags.
The Hag hollered, quickly retreating. The rest of the Trolls converged on her lumbering fiend.
Her semi-dome rippled like an obsidian pudding, consuming both metal and wood, dropping her vitality just a smidgen.
A buffet! Her fiend seemed to be saying.
Still, she should first stun the Hags.
Sparks flew, her Kirin lit up the room. An incandescent Lighting Sphere blossomed where the two Hags retreated toward the Chieftain, catching all three within the plasma ball's expanding circumference.
With Ariel-VR as her point of view, Gwen marvelled at the sight of her lightning-nova rolling over the Beast Tide in a text-book display of wide-area bombardment.
Her packs spread out, keeping the Trolls penned as Caliban shot forward like a fat pilum, propelled by its Golos-sized body. Rearing, her Naga's necks distended, suddenly doubling or tripling in length so that its tentacle shower descended from above.
A beam of radiance made the Hag stumble.
The Troll witch screamed just once before it was consumed, despairing as her black blood harmlessly slid from Caliban's carapace. The second faired a little longer, for the Troll Chieftain had reached its side.
Three heart-seekers from Lulan, now freed from her melee against the trolls, knocked the Chieftain aside, the first catching the giant in the thigh, then the second in its shield and the third against the side of its armoured head. As a follow-up, a Radiant Glyph turned the Chieftain's bark-helmet red-hot, filling the air with the stink of sizzling flesh.
Caught off-balance, the Chieftain stumbled just enough so that Caliban's trajectory remained true. Its lamprey-tongues descended from above, swallowing the Arch-Hag in a shower of pink-tentacles, drowning the maleficient caster in a torrent of corrosive, void-tinged goo.
Caliban's remaining heads turned to face the Chieftain.
The Troll leader visibly gulped. Gwen wondered if Trolls could sweat, for the Chieftain was drenched enough to slip from its armour and make a run for it.
"SHAA! SHAA! SHAA!" Caliban's happy heads hissed in tandem as two gravid bulbs, kicking amidst futile bouts of necrotic energy, travelled down its serpentine necks toward its torso.
Even armoured, Gwen could see that the Chieftain fought an intense inner-battle.
Ah, the problem with sapience, Gwen empathised with the beast. Cognisance brought all kinds of troubles, like hopeless despair.
If the Chieftain had been a mindless beast; if it could rage against Caliban until its blood ran dry, then she may very well suffer a pyrrhic victory. But now, the Troll's leader feared its indomitable foe, not only impacting the morale of its clanmates but dooming them to become Void fodder.
Caliban swallowed its prey.
Evee's crying face faded.
Gwen's soul returned to her body.
Within the recess of her Void Shield, there was no exterior source of light. What little illumination she possessed came from the Ioun Stones and the concentric rings of electricity shed by her cobalt irises.
"Shaa!" Caliban's belly rumbled.
Her menagerie welcomed the return of their mistress. A Wyvern was missing, but that was an absence she would address in time.
Gingerly, aided by her barrier, Gwen rose from the cold granite floor.
"Cali, everyone, good work," she commended her minions. "Let's finish up."
She had at best a few minutes before the combined assault from a Brutaliser and two Essence-infused Hags saturated her physical and Astral Body. One was a substitute for Nephres, three would surely blow her top.
"Tei. Keep everyone behind the barrier. When my Swarm starts, you're going to be swarmed."
"Will do," Tei's voice returned from her Message bangle. "Welcome back, Vice-Captain."
"Thanks, Cap. Pats, I may need a modesty barrier if my shield fails."
"Got it covered," Petra replied.
"Lulu, are you alright?" Gwen had seen Lulan's incapacitation through her Ariel Vision.
"Nothing's broken." Lulan's raspy voice was like sandpaper. "Leave the Chieftain to me. I want its head."
"Alright, take care," Gwen relayed Lulu's desire to Caliban.
"Inti." She then switched channels. "I am going to use Void Swarm to finish things, how's it looking on your end?"
"The Hags are dealt with?" Inti's tone quickly regained its usual calm. "Thank the sun for that. The Beast Tide is stemming, as far as I can see. I'll be able to manage my end from here."
"Good work and great news." Gwen thanked her lucky stars. "Looks like we're almost home free."
"Indeed." The prince wasn't very good at hiding his emotions. "Thank you for staying with us. Miss Song, had you not been here, we would have been wiped out and disgraced, in our own country, no less."
"No worries, bud," Gwen chuckled. "It was the right thing to do."
"Gwen," Inti's reply was rich with gratitude. "You are a better person than I."
"Aww, chin up." Gwen hung the call, then prepared herself. As of now, she could sense the latent vitality in Caliban's engorged body. In the next minute, when the South China sea flooded her Tonglv, she wouldn't want to be without a proverbial release valve. "Okay, I am starting."
Her hands made the necessary somatic gestures taught to her by Henry and improved by Petra's Master. Her lips dextrously formulated the incantations, biting each arcane syllable with precision. Opening her conduits and allowing the flood of Void-tinged mana to course through her body, she willed into place the tiny portals that connected the Quasi-Elemental Plane of the Void and the material world.
"SHAA! SHAA!" Caliban exalted as its brethren joined the fray.
Through Ariel, Gwen watched her performance.
Below, in an enclosed cavern boiling over with beasts and demi-humans, a dark egg of Void gave birth to an endless multitude of slithering lampreys, migrating from the spherical locus in an all-consuming, ever-hungry tide.
As though shifting schools of baitfish, the Magical Creatures trapped within the cavern fled the advancing swarm of slithering mouths. Trolls scrambled past anacondas and hogs to climb at the walls. Lesser creatures sought out higher ground, seeking to escape the glistening, slimy, insatiable shoal.
Fudan's Mages kept at their posts, drinking mana potions, burning Fudas and spell cubes as wave upon waves of desperate things crashed against their barrier. Monsters and animals numberless and many-limbed, snarling with fury or mad with terror, fell into the lava moat, got caught between the Walls of Fire and Water, or tangled themselves in Dust Tendrils.
While Caliban stood guard, understanding that further action on its part would only complicate its mistress' plans, Gwen's hounds pursued the Chieftain, directing its escape so that it fled toward the tunnel from which Fudan had arrived.
And at its destination, an iron-clad maiden awaited with her dancing swords, bruised and battered but undefeated, thirsty for its green blood.
Gwen rejoiced, expending her influx of vitality. It was a moment worthy of exaltation, for she did not doubt that after a public display such as this, she would have proven to the world her control over the Void.
Her Divination tinged, registering a five on the Mayuree meter.
A bone-chilling cold held her hostage. Gwen wanted to act but was held in place by her channelling of the Void Swarm.
Gwen's Conjuration Sigil pulsed.
"CALAMITY!" Golos' bark was worse than an air siren. "HELP!"
Outside the shadowy silhouette of the temple, Hardin Smith dumbly recorded the proceeding, numbed by the events.
With a record of Inti's survival in hand, he was safe from demotion.
Any superior who wasn't an idiot could see that the Void Sorceress and her six-prong slug was a solid alibi. Potentially, the unedited, uncut, first-hand account may even earn Hardin a reward, assuming the data reached the right hands.
Hardin wasn't a vain man, nor was he one to be hung on failure.
Shit happened, and it should come as no surprise when it hit the fan in a place like Amazonia; especially when a bona fide Void sorceress was involved.
After all, it wasn't as though Hardin hadn't performed to his usual standard. He had scouted the region for Amaru, recovered relics for his clients and even secured a second temple. Then, he had planted Resonators, disabled the Necromancer's monsters, and triggered a faux Beast Tide - all the while remaining undetected.
If there was another operator in Dark Water who could perform better, Hardin was happy to apprentice under the man or woman for a year.
Hardin sighed; either way, with the Troll-eater rampaging below, he was done.
It was time to leave.
A trio of crow-cries, interceded by what sounded like Draconic, drew his goggles toward the sky.
Hardin's jaws dropped as the spectacle above unfolded.
A Thunder Wyvern— Fudan's Wyvern, was rapidly descending from the moonlit sky in the manner of a silvery-dark comet.
The silvery "tail" of the comet consisted of the Wyvern itself, its wings folded and its clubbed tail whipping the wind. The black "head" portion of the comet was, to Hardin's renewed capacity for surprise, one of those human-faced birds from the Wall of Wood the locals called "the Ancients". While falling with style, the Guardian's distended jaws latched around the Wyvern's breast, a terrible choice for the fact that the armour there was the thickest. Despite a lame wing flapping at the joint, the bird's hand-claws scraped at the Wyvern's belly, making a mess of the lizard's undersides.
Hardin counted the seconds it took for the duo to strike the top of the temple, where a hole had prior been made by the Beast Tide.
The top-most portion collapsed from the collision, falling through the Sanctum of the Sun into the Moon Sanctum's midst.
Turning in a gyre, the second Ancient swooped in, sleek as a bolt.
The third was intercepted by a blast of sunlight, sending it crashing into the interior.
Hardin's heart fluttered with hope. Was this Inti's Blessing or what?
Adjusting his Scrying device, Hardin charged up his optic camouflage, then detached from the tree, transforming into a wisp of wind as he made for the entrance. Right now, Cuzco's idiot prince was helping Fudan fight the big birds!
Glyphs glowed, then faded from view.
Hardin's suit whirled into action, activating a suite of enchantments designed for obfuscation. He had one chance, one strike— then no matter the result, he was home free.
Inti counted the monsters by his side, most of which, by his standards, where harmless critters forming the bottom half of Amazonia's food chain. Having promised Gwen that he would stem the tide, he had kept up Radiant Blast until the stench of smoking flesh smothered the sanctum.
Came the sound of strange cries from above.
Harpies? Inti wondered, or overlarge crows or condors, both of which were common in the Andes.
The voice that boomed against the temple was familiar to Inti. He could make out the first nonsensical word, but what was the other? "Let go?"
His confusion lasted a second, for the mounting repression from Golo's Dragon-fear told Inti the drake was rapidly descending toward the temple.
Inti readied a Blink.
The ancient, inter-slotted stonework that held the temple's uppermost tier exploded, showering the combatants below with yet more crushing debris. Among the chaos was Golos, a blaze of lightning, while held in its claws was the strangest bird Inti had ever seen.
"Kaak!" The avian coughed up lungfuls of blood, painting Golos half-way crimson. From what Inti could make out, the aberrant bird had a human face on a condor's body. Grotesquely, its feet were human hands tipped with scimitar-like claws.
A thunderous fulmination engendered, then the two struck the chaotic pool of combat below, landing not far from where Gwen had constructed a dark egg of sorts, splashing into a river of obsidian lampreys.
"LOREAT!" Golos barked, blasting the thing in the face with a breath of pure plasma, causing one of its eyes to boil in its socket. Exultant, Golos caught the creature in its jaws, then with a great tug, ripped out its oesophagus— tubes, vessels, ligaments and all.
"OPSOLA! Si tepoha authot coi!" Golos howled, blasting stabs of lighting all over. "ROAR!"
Below its claws, a river of eels washed over Golos' still-quivering prey.
A dark shadow descended, reminding Inti of his promise to Gwen— that he would hinder the tide of creatures coming in so that she could finish up below. Two birds were excessive, but one wasn't an impossible task.
"Sol Strike!" Inti waited for the last beast to dive before he directed a spell to turn its trajectory. Unlike the first two, this one was smaller and possessed a feminine profile, appearing as the weakest of the three.
Inti's aim stayed true, for his Radiant magic had little if no travel time, always landing precisely where its caster aimed.
"Come! Foul beast!" Inti rose into the air, engaging his faith-empowered flight. "By the Sun, let me be your opponent."
"Kaak!" His challenger emerged from the rubble, its face a mask of unadulterated fury. Like its larger counterpart, the gentler specimen was an ugly thing, possessed of sharp and angular features that resembled a Hag's. From the side, the fiend's hooked nose appeared cruel like that of a beak, while its snarling lips revealed rows of dagger-teeth yellow with tartar.
"Radiant Bolt!" Inti opened with his quickest skill to gauge the bird's resistance. As a general rule, higher-tier creatures possessed various forms of quasi-immunity, some more explicit than others. Radiance, for instance, worked well against Negative beings like the Undead, as well as Water and Ice Elementals. Against variations of Earth, however, as well as things wrought of fire, his firepower waned.
The bird retaliated, but not before its face broke out in boils.
Inti hadn't anticipated a sonic-attack.
As the sound struck, the interior of the sanctum resonated with the creature's wails, catching him unaware and off-balance.
"Shield of Faith!" Inti instantly erected a semi-rigid barrier imbued with golden strands of faith-infused mana. He quickly recovered even as visible cracks spread from the base of his wall.
Like a stalking raptor, the bird lowered its head and began to charge.
Inti fortified his conduits with a surge of mana, taking advantage of the hyper-clarity conveyed by the Potion of Heroism. While the potion was active, he wouldn't panic, and all feelings of fear and danger dulled.
The prince of Cuzco waited until he could smell the bird's foulness before Blinking behind his assailant.
A sizzling array of dancing lights toasted its crow-black feathers. When the spell ceased, the prince was dismayed to find that the beast remained unscathed.
"Just the face, huh?" Inti muttered to himself, readying a follow-up.
Sure enough, the creature turned, leading another attack with its head. Unfazed, Inti kited the thing around the spacious room, watching it kick and trip over the corpses filling the sanctum, wondering how Fudan was fairing with their alpha-specimen.
"That Wyvern is the most counter-productive Ally I have ever seen," Auberon critiqued sullenly. "It's inefficiency is such that I want to deduct CCs from Fudan for the simple fact of possessing such a useless thing."
"It just slew one of the dragon-eating birds, Auberon," a Magister pointed out. "That's plenty impressive to me."
"It LED the Dragon-eaters to Fudan's party!" Auberon ground his teeth. "It brought THREE enemies that are at least its match, into an IIUC match, while its owner was incapacitated and may very well still be incapacitated! The match was almost over! Finished!"
"Inti appears to be doing well." A Magus' fingers danced across the instruments. "Maybe the birds are not that strong?"
"Lord knows how strong they are." Auberon watched the screen with a complicated expression. "They haven't existed in Europe since forever."
"The Chinese say that the last one perished in a stew."
"A what?" Auberon turned to the cheeky Magus.
"A stew, sir." The Magus sweated. "In popular legend, the Yellow Emperor cooked the last Big Bird in a big pot, then he and his dragon-allies ate it. That would have been at least two-and-a-half thousand years ago. Maybe when this is all over, we can cook one ourselves."
"And follow the footsteps of Meister Darwin," another Magister joked. "Sir Darwin never catalogued a single Magical Creature without tasting it first."
A few of the proctors laughed to break the tension. Initially, with the Beast Tide receding, the atmosphere had relaxed— but then Golos had arrived, bringing its crow-black omen.
"Lucy, what's the ETA on Cuzco's Mages?"
"Ten minutes, sir. They passed Amazonia's teleportation circle a few minutes ago."
"Two Flights, Ten military Mages, one Magister."
"Magister Orccosupa, he is the Security Chief overseeing Lima."
Auberon nodded. It wasn't anyone he knew personally.
"The Sapa's forces are another thirty-minutes out. There's four flights, Twenty Mages, one Magister. Magistrate Huaman Yupanqui leads them."
"Tica's father?" Inti raised a brow.
"And what of Amaru Paullu-Yupanqui?" Auberon asked after the Tower Master.
"He says he is tending to the wounded students."
"SIR!" The Magus overseeing Inti projected his screen without permission. "It's happening again! The intruder is here!"
Overhead, the vid-cast showed Inti tussling with a female bird-thing. Having sustained significant injuries to its face, it was hopping mad as it fought the prince of Cuzco.
"There!" the Magus pointed to the screen where the spectrometry for Illusion shot to tier 6.
In the next moment, Inti fired off a spell that connected with the wall, fumbling the spell entirely. Not one to miss an opportunity, the dragon-eater caught the prince by the right arm, grabbing Inti by the shoulder.
Inti blinked, looking surprised, then screamed blue murder as blunt, yellow incisors cut into his flesh.
"BLOODY HELL!" Auberon swore. Inti was done. The boy's ring would soon activate. "FIND THAT SIGNAL!"
The chief proctor looked to the diagnostic screen, then paused when the familiar burst of quicksilver failed to materialise.
"Why isn't his Contingency activating?" Auberon knitted his brows as Inti howled, fastened between the monster's sadistic lips as it tossed him like a lettuce leaf. With evident cunning, the bird rotated its head like that of an owl, severing Inti's arm. "Jesus! What the hell is happening?"
Inti slammed against the wall, sending a cascade of tiles to descend upon his mangled body.
In the bird's mouth, the Contingency Ring activated.
"It sent back the arm?" Auberon spluttered. "THE FUCKING ARM?!"
A Magister winced. "Poor bugger. I rather liked the boy."
"His vitals are falling fast!" The Magus in charge of Inti hammered on the reading. "Sir! Can we help—"
Auberon shut the Magus with a gesture, his mind furiously filtering the potential outcomes. There was a play here, one only the chief proctor could make. Follow the competition's rules? Or to act in the Mageocracy's best interest? A wrong move meant Auberon would lose his accreditation, but with the right outcome, even an out-and-out violation was lauded as wisdom. Auberon glanced at the other screens, watching Fudan's Mages. Golos had brought the birds, meaning its owner was to blame. "Magus Evans, patch me to Fudan's sorceress."
Though it would count against neutrality, Auberon persisted in hijacking the Panopticon Glyph inscribed upon the contestant's Astral Souls.
"Gwen Song," the chief proctor spoke quickly and calmly, leaving the choice to the girl. "Inti is on the upper level and near death. You've got ten seconds until he's bird feed."
"Wha—" came the confused reply.
Auberon closed the circuit. Any more interference would bring the competition's vigour into question.
"Sir." The Magus staring at Inti's fading vitals retrieved a Long-Range Message device from beside the Divi-Engine. "Cuzco's Tower Master wants to know why Inti's arm just teleported into his medical bay."
Golos landed with his prey in a pool of Gwen's lampreys, sending two dozen of her fattest specimens back into the Void.
Gwen winced, but that was fine. She had resources to burn and countless worms to spawn. When the vitality had knotted her innards, filling her with nauseating pleasure, she had instantly popped out some five-hundred eels. The Hags weren't anything to scoff at either, generating at least a thousand between the two. Now, she waited for the lampreys to feast, self-multiplying as the temple cleared.
Her mind, in spite of eye-rolling waves of orgiastic pleasure, had retained control— until the moment she recognised what Golos had caught.
A Da-Peng?! Within the recess of her Void egg, Gwen rioted.
Ten thousand llamas danced across the foothills of her dopamine-mad brain, blowing on Peruvian pan-flutes.
"GOLOS! YOU DRACONIC-TARD!" she sprayed her Ally from crown to tail. "For fuck's sake, why are you doing this?! We're almost done! Some of us are fucking OoM! And you bring us a bloody Da-Peng?"
The Wyvern responded by maiming the screeching Da-Peng in a fantastic display of ultraviolence, making such a show of the kill that she wondered if an announcement-banner with "When Dragons Ruled the Earth!" was about to flutter from the ceiling amidst a sudden fanfare of trumpets.
Gurgling blood, the Da-Peng expired.
Gwen felt an unmentionable part of her anatomy unclench.
Refocusing her mind, she willed the black river toward the fallen Da-peng, ensuring that its vitality didn't go to waste. Grudgingly she acknowledged that at least the Wyvern wiped its arse.
As if in mockery, the silhouetted shape of a condor blotted out the scarlet moonlight.
Still borrowing Ariel's eyes, she saw a second Da-Peng enter the fray, bigger and meaner than the first, its expression leaving no doubt as to its inclination for violence. Surveying the interior, the bird turned its attention toward the hissing Caliban.
"Golos, you piece of shit!" Gwen's ire re-ignited, she was so upset that her breathing grew ragged. "You flying turd!"
A third Da-Peng attempted entry, only to be intercepted by a blast of radiance to the face.
"Inti, you beauty!" Gwen exalted, wishing she could summon Inti as a Planar Ally for five grand a pop. "Be careful!"
"Gwen, leave the Swarm and get back here!" Tei grew paranoid. They had all seen what the Da-Peng could do from their last bout. No matter the rigidity of her Void Shield, a good squeeze may very well turn her into Gwen-pâté.
"We'll use the same tactic!" Petra's voice followed. "Get it within twenty meters of us, and we'll disable it with Bilby. Lulu should be done with the Chieftain soon!"
"WOOF! WOOF!" Her hounds bayed at the flying beast, knowing they were out-matched.
"KAAA—AAAK!" Perhaps it was the vitality Caliban possessed, or its draconic-essence, or its serpentine form, or the fact that six heads were screaming "Shaa-Shaa!" the Da-Peng descended on her Familiar.
"Cali! Consume!" Gwen concurrently willed the swarm to move toward the Da-Peng. If they could keep it pinned and immobile, her lampreys may also suffice.
About ten meters from Caliban's coiled body, the Da-Peng suddenly changed trajectories. Instead of diving into Caliban, it swooped upwards.
Caliban followed, its serpentine necks swimming upwards to catch its ascending prey.
A burst of mana blew from the Da-Peng's wings. Within the space of a few meters, the buffeting gale turned into a mass of scything feathers.
"SHAA!" Caliban reeled, torn open by a thousand cuts. In the blink of an eye, the bird's assault de-gloved Caliban's exterior armour.
"CALI!?" Gwen was in shock, both from the vitality her pet demanded to repair itself and the fact that her Familiar had been pushed back by a single ability. "Shit! Dodge!"
Caliban turned its bleeding body even as the Da-Peng wheeled around to strike at its side. In its Naga form, Caliban's agility couldn't hope to match an Elemental beast of Air.
"KAAA!" The Big Bird made its first pass, its fingered claws grasping at Caliban's pliant, sluggish body.
"SHAA!" Caliban didn't feel pain, but it's master did, vividly so when linked through their empathic bond. In one strike, the Da-Peng had snatched up a portion of Caliban's flesh, crushing two fistfuls of writhing flesh. After it passed, Caliban's sleek form became unmistakably mangled, bleeding grey goo and vomiting the odd tentacle, appearing as though an obscene fountain.
"EE! EE!" Ariel demanded to be let loose, but Gwen held her Kirin back.
"We're going to Tei's!" she recalled Petra's advise. "Cali! Use your—"
A Message spell of the highest tier played itself against her ears.
"Gwen Song." The chief proctor's voice came across without emotion. "Inti is on the upper level and near death. You've got ten seconds until he's bird feed."
Gwen spluttered. "Wha—"
The Message died.
The Da-Peng circled, returning to 'finish' Caliban.
"Gwen! Get back in here!" Her teammates' voices hollered in her ear. "It's coming!"
Gwen dispelled her Void Shield.
Her Essence-infused eyes searched the sanctum above.
A Da-peng stalked within, cackling cruelly at an unseen victim.
Now, she had a choice to make, and a split-second with which to make it.