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A note from Wutosama

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Gwen could smell the ultraviolence the moment she teleported into the chamber. Foremost was the stink of Undeath, after which proceeded the unmistakable stench of ruptured bowels spilling from a torn black robe.

"Gogo?” She looked around for her Wyvern.

“He’s gone on ahead.” Schalk had taken up a position next to one of the entrances, overlooking the results of his Diviner's Scrying. “Lord Golos was muttering something about desecrators.”

Feeling her scalp crawl, Gwen reactivated her Gogo-VR. Presently, her twin vision showed the Wyvern walking over a mangled mess of coarsely ground meat. All about the princeling extended a Brutalist, Soviet-era habitat-block the size of a tennis court, in the midst of which she could see the levitation lifts.

“Did you run into any trouble?” she asked suspiciously.

The Wyvern grunted, wiping his feet on an unsoiled robe.

Gwen felt her throat constrict. There was something abstract in gazing at Golos' victims through borrowed eyes. The carnage was so distant— like she was the operator of some first-person murder game.

"Stay there, I'll be with you soon." Gwen cut the link.

A few more flashes of Conjuration later, the rest of the contestants filled the Teleportation Chamber.

"Good work." Schalk stood beside the portal’s mechanisms with an impressive-looking inscription-tool. “I will now disable the Circle. No one will be able to use it until they unravel the Arcane Lock. A feat which, though I don’t profess to be the premier Enchanter in Pretoria, should be time-consuming, to say the least.”

"And after that?" Yue glanced at the crumpled heaps by the wall, disappointed that Golos had hogged the action.

“To CCs and glory.” Lencho’s fingers sparked with electricity. Ever since Gwen had "lost" to his captain, the prideful Evoker had felt as though he was an oft-forgotten sidekick.

“Fret not, Lencho. I’ve got a good feeling about this,” Izette, Pretoria’s Diviner, painted a rosy picture for her teammate.

Gwen's eyes fell to Pretoria's Void Mage. Presently, Jean-Paul was whispering to his Familiar.

“Cali! Ariel!” she called her own to join the fray. She entertained summoning her Morden's Hounds but concluded that vertical levitation shafts made poor battlegrounds for magical dogs.

“EE EE!”
“Shaa shaa!”
The great white leech slithered from Jean-Paul to rub up against Caliban. Whatever the relationship their owners might have, the two Void Beasts had taken to one another like flesh-eating peas in an eldritch pod.

"Shaa!" Carapaces popped, tentacles writhed; unwitting observers stepped away. Ariel wanted to join, but Gwen held her Kirin back, producing a fistful of HDMs to placate its excitement.

Forming into their respective lines, the squads marched outside the teleportation chamber with their Abjurers leading the way. Discerningly, in place of guards and patrols, they discovered lightning-scorched walls and half-cooked bodies, all of which had met with sudden and fatal violence.

“How did you manage to tame a Thunder Wyvern?” Schalk enquired of Gwen, his expression almost worshipful. “What a magnificent Ally.”

“Lucky, I guess,” Gwen answered evasively. “I ran into Gogo on a mountain. We argued, my Uncle ploughed his sister, and then we made up.”

"... I would love to meet this Uncle." Schalk glanced at the armoured sorceress. "Truly, you're the most interesting person I've ever met."

"You're a pretty decent bloke yourself." Gwen gave the man her best smile, catching Jean-Paul looking meekly downwards.

"You two should get a room up in L-III, ” Yue interjected between them. “Schalk, what's the fastest way up to the foyer? I bet the PLA’s up to their necks about now.”

Turning a corner, the parties arrived at the Lower Ground's access chamber. In its present state, the severe room appeared as though a meteor had crash-landed in its midst, leaving no survivors.

Gwen nodded at her Wyvern as he scratched a crotch itch, stannding beside the lifts.

Golos nodded back.

Schalk inspected the Glyph inscriptions on the platforms' control plate.

Whomp!
Rongo thumped the Glyph. To no one's surprise, nothing triggered. "Bloody hell, it's shut."

“Anyone good with metal?” Schalk looked around.

"Lulu?" Gwen nominated her Sword Mage.

Lulan stepped up. The Sword Mage's fingers blurred, silently performing an invocation for Shape Metal. On cue, the stainless steel began to warp. A few inches later, her spell fizzled.

Lulan's face turned a deep scarlet.

“I meant cutting through it...” Schalk glanced at the Sword Mage, amused by her dismay. “Can for another try?”

“Sorry, Lulu, my mistake,” Gwen patted Lulan on the head. “Gogo, think you can best this feeble, human-made door?”

Golos snorted, positioning himself in front of the double-panel. With a sound of metal-on-metal, he dug his fingers into the pane, levering the portion where Lulan’s magic had warped the seamless metal.

“GRRAARRRRGH!” Golos howled, his body crackling with power. Visibly, a mountain of muscles bunched across his back, coming alive with Draconic essence.

CRUNK—PANG!

Something inside the panels snapped. Inch by inch, the door parted, pulling apart as the structural integrity of the gears and pistons failed.

“HA!” Golos kicked, sending the left-most panel flying off its sliding rail. With a dissonant clang, the pane launched into the interior of the levitation shaft. The resulting noise was no less than a gong announcing the Mages' arrival.

"No matter," Schalk stated with a straight face. "I am sure they're expecting us. Master Golos, may I humbly request that you also open ours?"

 

“Here's is where we part,” Gwen struck out a hand. “Schalk, Jean-Paul, everyone, good luck.”

The others joined in, exchanging handshakes.

“Come back alive.” Jean-Paul’s palm grew slimy the moment Gwen clasped his fingers. “Totsiens…”

“Take care, JP."

“Shaa! Shaa!” Caliban nudged Umzokwe.

The leech wiggled its segmented tail.

With final formalities performed, Pretoria formed into their marching order, with Schalk and Umzokwe leading, followed by Jean-Paul, Izette, Helia, and finally Lencho. With great solemnity, Fudan and Auckland watched as the basement shaft swallowed the Afrikaners.

“Shall we?” Yue stepped into the shaft, seamlessly transitioning from land to air. One by one, her teammates joined her.

“Take care and don’t be rash,” Gwen warned her friend. “It’s just a competition.”

“No worries, I’ll protect her.” Whetu's eyes encompassed the petite Fire Mage protectively, reminding Gwen of Jonas, Alesia's Cleric.

“Ha!” Yue grinned, her affable enthusiasm melting Gwen’s heart. “Tell ya what, let me give you a bit of advice in turn.”

Gwen perked up. It wasn’t every day that the mighty Yue dispensed wisdom.

“DO NOT pussy-foot around.” Yue's amber eyes grew severe, wiping the smirk from Gwen's sultry lips. “Fuck everything up. NoMs, Monsters, Necromancers, EVERYTHING— if not, you’ll be the one getting rat-fucked.”

“Bless!”

“Aid!”
“Mage Armour!”
“Protection from Elements!”
“True Strike!”
“Mind Link”
“Guardian of Faith!”

The Fudan five hovered in the dimly lit vertical tunnel. After Yue's team chose the middle route, they had opted for the rightmost shaft. Thankfully, unlike the claustrophobic corridors, the transmuted concrete was widened to accommodate cargo, measuring some six meters in diameter.

"Still warded." Lulan retracted a hand.

"Of course it is." Richard brushed a finger across the seamless surface. "Levitation shafts are central components of any base. In a Tower, there'd be mana dampeners lining the walls as well."

“How’s it looking up there?” Gwen inquired of her Diviner.

“Your friend has just broken into the ground floor,” Mayuree sucked in a breath of stale air. “There are A LOT of enemies.”

"And above us?"

“I am not sure,” Mayuree knitted her brows. “There are mana signatures all over, but I can't use Clairvoyance through warded concrete. I am not seeing much with Arcane Eye either.”

“Don't worry about it then,” Gwen acknowledged the limitations of mid-tier Divination. “Stick to our plan. We should proceed to L-III, then Purge downward from there. Is the tunnel clear?”

"I think so."

Richard gazed into the uncertain darkness. “Stay away from the walls. You never know.”

“Shaa!” Caliban concurred. Its spider legs skittering about the shaft’s surface, somehow managing to stick to the smooth concrete. Beside it, an invisible Ariel flittered through the air in its Kirin form.

“Good idea,” Fudan’s Captain took her Abjurer’s advice. “We’ll lead with Familiars. I’ll bring up the rear. Gogo, can you take the lead?”

Golos yawned. As a creature of Air and Lightning, levitation proved no obstacle.

"I am glad we see eye-to-eye. Alright, everyone, let's ascend."

With concurrent thrums, Fudan switched their Shen-teī armour to combat mode, offering their mana pool to the armour's batteries. This way, the suit not only provided better protection but took on the peculiar Elemental affinities of their wearers.

A dozen meters from their entryway, Fudan passed the ground floor. From behind the double doors, the rollicking sound of chaotic combat reverberated, shaking the tunnel and displacing the dust.

"I hope Yue and Whetu are doing alright," Gwen remarked as they passed the sealed doors. Compared to the rumbling entrance, L-I proved the quieter counterpart, followed by a silent L-II. If anything, seven-foot cement slabs were very good at sealing sound.

Near L-III, some fifty meters from the lower ground, Ariel reported that it had run up against the base of the levitation platform.

“Gogo,” Gwen called upon to her Wyvern again, appreciative of the way her brute served as a humanoid bulldozer. “Can you move the platform, please?”

Golos sighed, perhaps thinking that the sooner the Quest was done, the sooner he got back to his lair.

Ten meters from their target, the Wyvern paused.

“What’s wrong?” Gwen’s eyes scanned the sterile vicinity of their concrete tube. “Gogo?”

Her Wyvern dipped in the air, his mane suddenly bristling like the back of an agitated hog. Above it, the base of the levitation platform came alive with living shadows.

“Calamity!" Golos growled, his voice filling the levitation tube like a thunderclap. “It's an ambush!”

"That's an imperial fuck-load of Undead."

Yue pronounced her unadulterated opinion of the churning battle cascading from the alcove from which they had emerged. On every surface, Skeletons, Ghouls, Zombies and Ghasts of all sorts hung from wall to wall, floor to ceiling. There was Undead everywhere she looked: the service counters, the waiting rooms, the armoury, the barracks— no space was left unsullied.

In front of the PLA's Golem-lead beachhead, the Undead formed an undulating tide of glistening, roving, jostling bodies moving as one, surging so that they boiled and tumbled. And the smell! The Mages gagged. The foetid air was solid with the scent of reposed flesh.

Opposite the Mages, leading the invasion were the two Dusty-266s, already up to their waists in Zombies. With wide swings, they swatted away the cadavers with their buzzing sonic claws, their roaring, red-hot mana engines shaking the dust from the walls. Behind and beside the War Golems were the PLA Mage Flights, slinging spells and pushing forward with every element they could muster, cleaving the flanks with quicksilver flashes.

A Blade Barrier! Yue cooed with admiration.

Colonel Qin Qíao of 1st Force-Recon led the charge, maintaining the spell-made industrial harvester so that it reduced anything within range into mince-meat.

"Manaaki!" Opi activated her team's suite of Ta Moko enhancements, warding her companions against the dead. The group-wide buff was necessitated by the Negatively-aligned miasma, for the bone-chilling aura sapped the vigour from the living, polluting their minds with despair.

"Let's clear the casters first..." Yue gave her command. Bolstered by the Maori's craft, she suppressed her battle lust, using her fingers to mark the team's victims, one by one. "... before they realise we're the real threat."

Behind the solid wall of grasping corpses pushing back the PLA, a dozen human acolytes commanded the Undead. In waves, the Necromancers wove spells of empowerment, throwing up profane sorceries to wear down the PLA's spell-bound barriers. Such was the ebb and flow of all battles against the Undead, for the Mages would grow exhausted eventually, culminating in a retreat. After that, the Necromancers could choose pursuit, or if the victory was pyrrhic, they could re-raise their minions.

“I’ll keep the horde pinned with Rongo,” Timoti's conduits bloated with magma. “Whetu, stay with Yue and hunt the Necromancers.”

“Sweet-ass, bro,” Whetu was confident in his Pounamu Mage Armour. “Ready when you are, Cuz.”

Rongo needed no advice to begin his most powerful Evocation. As a Water Mage, his spells lacked in damage, but more than made up in flexibility. With one hand, the Evoker inscribed a Ta Moko-like mandala in the air, concurrently lighting up the tattoos enveloping his body. On his torso, the Whale Shark came alive as conduits overflowed with supercharged mana. With a mighty cry, the Water Mage called upon his Spirit. “He-Mango-Tohorā, come forth!”

Abruptly, the Mandala expanded to ten times its size, covering the space of a dozen meters. Behind Rongo, a brief impression of a Whale Shark manifested, filling up half the chamber.

“Parawhenua!” The beloved son of the sea unleashed the fury of his patron.

Before the Undead onslaught could build enough momentum, a streaming jet of whitewater erupted, tossing the Skeletons and Ghouls like children's toys. An unstoppable torrent, the jet blast travelled forward unimpeded for a dozen meters before petering out, transforming the region around Auckland's team into a miniature lake, dashing apart the Undead formation.

“Behind us! Infiltrators!” The Acolytes realised too late a new threat had struck. The howling sorcerer, Yue concluded, must be her first target, for he looked the oldest, and his robes were richly embroidered.

“Mi-Jeong! Stop them!” her future victim commanded a junior.

From the rotting throng, a Giant Skeleton and a three-meter Abomination broke free, wading through the water toward Auckland.

“Tuatara!” Timoti sensed that the time was ripe to summon this three-headed Lava Lizard, a spirit unique to his home region. “Magma Burst!”

From the shallows came exploding spikes of magma-drenched stone, instantly solidifying as they passed through the seawater. Two magma-spikes caught the skeleton, entangling its bones in hardening obsidian. Against the Abomination, the super-heated volcanic ejecta straight-away exploded, flaying the flesh from its stitched frame and spilling its worm-like innards.

But a Giant Skeleton wasn't so easily checked. With one hand, the monstrous Undead sling-shotted a club comprised of sharpened bone at Rongo.

Crash!

A timely shield from Whetu deflected the crushing blow.

Yue meanwhile, took advantage of the distraction to fly past Timoti and Rongo, stopping just within spell-range of the Necromancers pointing at her and shouting.

“Pounamu Protects!” Whetu preemptively materialised a honey-comb latticed barrier capable of withstanding all forms of exotic punishment. “DAMPENING FIELD!”

With Auckland’s level of Spellcraft, practical counter-spells were nigh-impossible. As such, Whetu opted for a double-edged solution— reducing their and their enemy’s elemental efficacy so that he could tank what remained. Of course, outside the spell's range, Yue's power remained unabated.

“Incoming!” Whetu felt his Astral Soul quake from the avalanche of Negatively-aligned assault consuming the abjuring vigour stowed in his Pounamu. Like spoiled oil, a fusillade of necrotic energies slid from Yue, cascading in sheets as Whetu renewed the serpent stone.

The Abjurer grunted, gleaming sweat flinging from his steaming back to enliven the throbbing Ta Moko. Warding against Necromancy was a hard slog. Without Faith Magic, there was no way to entirely prevent the sorcery from eating away at Yue’s life force.

Thankfully, the serpent stone fort needn't be held for long. A dozen rapid incantations later, it was Yue's turn.

“INVOCATION OF FIRE!” The pint-size Evoker burst into cobalt flames, lighting half the lobby as she assumed the likeness of a regal Ifrit. Tân-Cysgodol, her Nightmare, could just be seen flittering in and out of her ever-expanding cloak of fire.

“Tandy!" Yue's voice rang as a thunderclap. "Fuck’em up! CHAINED CONFLAGRATION!”

A brilliant blossom of near-invisible fire combusted near the senior acolyte, melting through the feeble shield put up by the self-taught Mage. As the air ignited, transforming into white-hot plasma, it was accompanied by more spontaneous fireballs, engulfing the Acolytes wholesale.

All around Auckland, the world burned.

One after another, chained explosions engendered. Though Alesia's apprentice left much to be desired in the realm of control, the power of Yue’s blast accommodated any and all enemies within its range of effect.

—BANG!
—BANG!
—BANG!

A third and fourth explosion rocked the ground floor, concordant shock-waves caught one another as bodies turned to sizzling mince.

After a fifth and final discharge, Yue stabbed herself with a mana-injector, grunting as the infused plasma reinvigorated her mana pool. Tân-Cysgodol faded from sight. Her cloak of flames, so blinding only a moment ago, slid from her shoulders, revealing a huffing sorceress wreathed with writhing Ta Moko.

Yue surveyed the scope of her work.

A dozen craters studded the foyer where the acolytes had stood their ground. The junior Necromancers were utterly stunned by the attack from behind. As per tradition, senior casters always stood near the back, meaning the best of them were now painting the walls, their blasted brains mingling with their beloved Ghouls.

The battle tide was turning. The Acolytes faltered.

“Good work!” Whetu shouted. “Let’s regroup!”

Without the Necromancers' battlefield control, Rongo’s one-man tsunami came rushing in, hissing as the seawater cooled the scorched stone.

“Fuck, I blew my load too soon.“ Yue eyed the remaining Necromancers and the other nine-tenths allotment of Undead still swarming over every surface. Taking down five acolytes was good, but she could have done better. “Should have waited for the cunts to clump— WHOA!“

“SHIELD!” Whetu raised a honey-comb barrier just in time to catch a Bone Lance, stopping the projectile a few inches from Yue’s bosoms. The Evoker shirked back, taking a few splinters across her warded dermis, leaving white scars where the necrotic energy caressed her skin.

The party looked to the ceiling.

A congealing pool of blood had silently engendered on the roof, beneath which now suspended an upside-down Necromancer.

The cruel face that regarded Auckland was graced by a head of ash-blonde hair, looking far younger than its proclaimed sixty-seven years. Standing just over six-feet, the man wore a stark white, skeletal armour resembling an exoskeleton.

Anton Yermolov! A name came to Auckland's collective mind.

"FOUR-HUNDRED-CCs!" Yue shouted. "Come here, ya bastard!"

“MAELSTROM!” Rongo howled, persisting in his finisher despite the immediate dangers facing Yue and Whetu. Together with the swirling sea draining into the Elemental Plane of Water, he could dispose of several hundred lesser Undead. Once ejected into the Plane itself, the corpses would become fish-feed for the numberless denizens of the Fathomless Sea.

“Quake!” Timoti simultaneously directed his seismic assault at the walls and the ceiling, peeling the Undead hanging there from every surface to aid in Rongo's efforts. Though the wards prevented the manifestation of his unique Para-Element, the jolting harvest of tumbling Undead was well worth the mana.

“TANDY! INVESTITURE OF FLAME” Yue burned the mana that had only a second ago entered her conduits. Excessive use of Investiture caused self-harm— but the Necromancer left her little choice.

“Arrogant Tower brats!” came a mocking snarl from their enemy. “Five little mice sneaking into our base? You’ll make excellent materials! Foetid Deluge!”

Acidic droplets of dark and eldritch blood began to fall from the ceiling. Where it landed on the Undead, it empowered them. Against the living, it sapped them of life.

At once, Auckland’s Abjurer conjured semi-transparent Pounamum shields for his companions.

“Yue!” Whetu sensed a yet more powerful surge of Negative Mana welling up inside the Necromancer’s body. With a word, he buttressed her wards. “Don’t fight him head-on, bro!”

“Protection from Evil!” Opi reached the Abjurer's side, simultaneously reinforcing a sacred Ta Moko to bolster Whetu's fortitude. “Go! Take a drain for her if you have to, we need her awake and alive!”

Whetu needed no coaxing. Like a human battering ram, he pushed through the pelting rain of corrosive serum, positioning himself above the Evoker.

“I'll fuck him up proper, don't you worry.” Yue winced when an earlier splatter bypassed her fire to corrode her skin, forming an instant, necrotic lesion. The agony was exquisite, but the pain helped to focus her mind as she called upon the ill-tempered Tandy. “Give me a minute!”

But a minute was an eternity when squaring off against a Magus, and a Necromancer at that.

“Fools!” Anton rebuked the young Mages and their arrogance. “Sanguine Mantle! Mass Terror!”

A wave of nausea washed over the Kiwis, reaching even the PLA Mages below. As much as the Chinese soldiers wanted to reach the Necromancer raining blood from a safe distance above, splitting from their well-practised battle-bulwark would make them fodder for the wave of Undead breaking upon their formation. Even Colonel Qíao, who had been splitting the Undead sea, knew the young Mages had to face the profane caster alone.

As a ruby-red bird of prey, the Necromancer approached.

“You’ll make an excellent Revenant, my girl.” The man’s face was barely visible behind his mask of bone. “And your Nightmare will nourish my Bone Spirit!”

For once, Yue had no retorts. Other than tracking her target’s trajectory, the Fire Mage paid the man no heed. With a singular focus, she exercised her Signature invocation, citing every Glyph and guiding every mote of mana into their proper place. Alesia's gift of Shadow Flare was her favourite spell outside Fireball. It was an incantation exchanged from the Deep Dwarves, whose control of Elemental Fire far exceeded mortal ken. The only drawback was that without Tân-Cysgodol, the unique flame could not be manifested.

Above her tiny body, Whetu’s expanding barrier of Pounamu grew threadbare. Behind that, a furious Anton approached, wreathed in blood and bone.

Gwen had never seen a Wraith before, but she knew a bloody Dementor when she saw one. And just like in the movies, the Wraiths' appearance was as Rowling had advertised.

"Holy shit..." she announced her dismay.

In a flash, a dozen or so cosplaying Nazgûls had them instantly surrounded. Unbidden, the temperature in the levitation tube fell by a dozen degrees, turning the Mages' breaths to mist.

“WEEEEEAAARRRGH—“
“WEEEEARRRGH—“

Goosebumps covered length of Gwen's limbs.

The keening of a Wraith was said to stifle a victim’s soul, paralysing even the stoutest and most fortified Mage. The bestiary proved accurate, for even with Eunae’s Bless and Aid, Fudan’s Mages seized, held prisoner by a primal terror.

“Gogo!” Gwen shook off the wailing, shocked but not stunned. “Defend us!”

“ROOAAARRRR!” Golos’s answer emerged in the form of white-hot lightning. As his Dragon breath flashed the tunnel, it caught not only the Wraiths but struck the bottom of the Levitation platform.

CRACK—BANG! Came the sound of fulminating thunder, amplified by the enclosed space. Living lightning crawled along the walls, climbing down the exploding granite as bits and pieces flaked from around the team’s surroundings.

“Ariel!” Gwen added her firepower to the display. Even with Eunae as support, she had no desire to play victim to a Wraith’s soul-draining touch. “Elemental Sphere!”

Compounding bolts of hysterical electricity filled the tunnel, forcing Mayuree and the rest to activate their shields and Richard to retrieve Lea. Even Lulan, who had taken a hack at a Wraith to see what would happen, was forced to withdraw behind Richard’s water sphere.

“Ha!” Golos’ laughter cut through the cacophony. “They’ve perished!”

“They’ve hidden themselves in the walls!” Came Mayuree’s Mind Linked interjection, clear as crystal despite the non-OSHA compliant decibels assailing their ears.

“You're shitting me,” Gwen cursed. The fucking walls were warded against spells, but not against ghosts?

CRUNK! A sizeable chunk of metal fell from the “ceiling”. As always, Golos' full-strength breath knew not the meaning of subtlety.

The levitation disk groaned as though an enormous Zombie.

All around the contestants, shattered concrete and loose steel broke free from the ozone-filled gloom directly above the contestants. When their vision returned, what they saw was a tittering Levitation platform on the verge of imminent structural failure.

“Shit!” Gwen banished the Wraiths from her mind for the moment. “Gogo, don’t let that thing fall on us!”

Golos disliked being commanded over being coaxed, but the circumstances hardly allowed for negotiations. With a fulminating growl, the Thunder Wyvern grew into its magnificent self, anchoring its claws on the tunnel’s walls. Then, with a mighty flap that drove the students back, the Planar Ally heaved with its muscular neck, tilting the platform so that it grew inverted.

The levitation Mandala held on for a moment more— then failed.

As one, the contestants retreated.

The disk was only a dozen meters above them. Nonetheless, with its weight, the momentum was enough to rake arm-deep gouges into the cement walls.

“Lea! Jet Blast!” Richard corrected the chaotic tumble of the wobbling levitation platform as it fell, ensuring a perpendicular descended past Fudan’s Mages. When the tiled surface came within half a meter of them, Gwen felt a thrill like no other.

“!”

Her spine tingled. She activated a shield but suddenly realised it wasn’t danger from the falling disc that had triggered her Divination senses. “Shit! Get—”

“— Eunae! AWAY FROM THE WALLS!” Mayuree’s warning came earlier, but still, it was too late.

“AEEEEEE!” Eunae screamed. She had been so fearful of being crushed that she was almost melding into the tunnel's sides. It had been a reflexive but poorly thought-out strategy, for consequently, she had no time to manifest her Shield of Faith against the Wraiths still hiding in the walls.

Instantly, the Cleric’s face grew deathly pale. The vital forces within her body gave way as Negative Energy hungrily consumed her life-force.

Beside her, the Mind Linked Mayuree groaned.

“Eunnie!” Gwen cursed. “FUCK! Lightning Bolt!”

Ariel’s bolt warped until it wrapped around Eunae, severing the Wraith’s limb and driving its presence from her body. Had Fudan lacked Gwen as a Lightning sorceress, that would have been it for Eunae.

“Shaa!” Caliban caught the falling healer with a pair of tentacles, reading Gwen's desperation, likewise frustrated that it couldn’t consume incorporeal foes.

A Dimension Door later, Gwen stood atop Caliban, holding Eunae in her arms. The girl wasn’t wounded, at least not anywhere she could see. The infamous Draining Touch, however, had no doubt afflicted Eunae in unimaginable ways, shutting down the girl’s physiological functions. Had she been even a little slower, Gwen shivered. Eunae would have teleported back to Dalian.

“Here.” Richard materialised a Restoration injector.

“Ariel! Keep watch!”

“I’ll help.” Mayuree materialised a Wand of Lightning. The item was illicit, but the CC loss was minimal compared to being bogged down by spirits playing hide and seek through the bloody walls.

With a hiss, the injector's precious cargo left the tube, filling the Cleric’s body with a new lease on life.

Eunae gasped, her fingers clutching Gwen’s shoulders, her armoured gloves scratching the ceramic plates.

“Eunnie, are you alright?” Gwen’s voice grew soft. She felt a pang of remorse.

“I—I thought I was going to die.” Eunae’s doe-like eyes were wide and misty with moisture. “Gwen, it was horrible! It grasped my heart! I could feel—”

“Shhh— you're safe now. It's gone.” Gwen hugged the girl back when Eunae crushed herself against her chest, refusing to part from her lightning-clad vice-captain. Empathising with the Cleric's unease, she wondered if she should have learned Calm Mind from Petra. “Maybe you should heal yourself a bit.”

“I-I want to go—“ The Korean expatriate suddenly bit her tongue. The girl’s pained expression made Gwen wince. Eunae had finally regained enough awareness to realise that this was the IIUC and that folks back home would be watching her performance. Had those words left her mouth, her main family would be very displeased indeed.

“Eunnie, I need you to stay strong for us,” Gwen whispered beside the healer's ear. “You'll be safe. Maybe not unscathed, but all of us are going to come out of this just fine.”

Eunae’s expression softened. In her arms, the healer’s limbs relaxed. “I hope so. Thank you, Sunbae-nim.”

The honorific made Gwen's lips curl.

“Eunnie… you’re older than me.” She snickered, bringing a moment of mirth to calm the shivering Cleric's uncertain mind. “But sure— Sunbae-nim is here for you."

Eunae’s complexion turned the colour of pickled beetroot.

"That’s all well and good." Richard pointed at the mechanism holding the double doors accessing L-III. “But how about we get out of the tunnels and find the Necro controlling these Wraiths?"

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Wutosama

Bio: I write on the phone and edit at home. Times are tough!

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