Dust flaked from the ceiling of Khorok Umgor's Hall of Communion, signalling the beginning of yet another battle outside its Dwarf-forged walls. Bound and un-Klad, Hilda Kül-Hildenbrandt, scion of Varekan-Kül, Bringer of the Lumen, sat in the dark, her eyes glistening wetly at the pale nimbus from the extinguished light stones.
Of course, her lineage could see perfectly well in the dark.
What distressed her was that both herself and Ebren were no longer safe in their protective, religious garb. Worse still, Ebren's unseen form had been strapped to an apparatus consisting of a tomb filled with inward-facing obsidian spikes, crafted from a crudely split geode. As for herself, she sat on a cushioned chair of moleskin leather, still dignified in the embryonic Klad-skin despite being bound by inscribed bands of corrupted Palladium.
"Ebren? Are you still…?" Her voice was hauntingly feminine without the modification provided by the vox-caster.
"I live yet, Mistress."
"Who do you think is fighting outside?"
"Commandrumm Hanmoul, without a doubt."
"Will the Commandrumm succeed?"
"Will he survive? No. Not if Lord Thalmar personally engages the First Legion. Not if he doesn't flee from the Aberrant horde."
Hilda sighed, exhaling almost all of the air in her lungs. "Kin against Kin, blood against blood. Are we to sing the Dirge of Møsvian after all?"
"I wouldn't call those things 'Kin'," Ebren croaked. "They will never set foot in the Ancestor's Halls. Deepholm, if it stands, shall never allow it—"
The ground shook once more, sending dust and debris down as a fine mist.
Hilda shuddered just the same, her body shaking in the same manner as the stone walls even now under assault. Deepholm would never allow it? She wanted to believe that was true, but what if the monsters' terms were valid and Deepholm had moved on from being Dwarfholm to something entirely aberrant?
When Farron Galrol, Captain of the Murk Divers had removed her helmet to prove Thalmar's point—
The Deepdowner banished the thought.
Hilda attempted to invoke her innate talent out of sheer desperation if nothing else. Usually, the Earth-bound mana inside her body would immediately attune to the surrounding stones, but now, they only brought pain.
A disturbing odour of sizzling flesh escaped the Palladium bands as they heated up, turning her mind white-hot with agony. The pain, if she had to bear it, wasn't incapacitating. Her Shape Metal, however, refused to manifest.
"Don't," Ebren's voice floated through the dark, still muffled by the geode tomb. "There's nought we can do, for now. Be patient. Know that the Ancestors have suffered more in their building of Deepholm, and yet they still built our glorious city and carved out a home for our race to prosper. All of this— it will pass, or we will die. Either way, we shall return to the earth's embrace and leave nothing for the Aberrants."
Hilda regulated her breath until the cresting surges of agony grew dull enough for her to resume her speech. She wondered for a moment if a part of her embryonic suit had now welded to her skin.
"Were you tempted, Ebren?" she asked between huffs, her vision blurry with frustration. "By what that 'thing' offered?"
"If what they say is true," Ebren replied. "I could see why some would join them. The Elders have always envied the Knife-ears, and it isn't as though attempts to prolong their life weren't made in the past. The Chamber of the Eternal Cog is half-choked with Vadam designs, how many, Brumdahr knows, have escaped us?"
"Were you not… fascinated? Even in the slightest?"
"I am your Keeper, milady." The wizened Dwarf's voice grew pained. "We are our duties, Hilda. Never mind immortality. Never lust after boundless knowledge. If we forsake our debt to our Kin and our Ancestors, how could we still be Dwarves? We may as well be…"
"… Aberrants?" Hilda felt a smile touch her lips. A split-second later, her heart grew sore enough to bleed. "Ebren, do you think the other Citadels are aware?"
"… I hope they live in ignorance," Ebren said. "If they are not—"
Khorok Umgor jumped.
They were underground, and short of an Elder Earthen Dragon turning in its sleep, the cavern couldn't collapse. Hilda looked up, seeing the cracks just now appearing in the ceiling. The wards would hold— for they were designed precisely for incidents such as this, but what force could shake the Citadel's very foundations?
Hanmoul's Legion? She wondered. More Balefires Golems?
"Bürumm-Dal, give thy scions strength," her Keeper murmured in the dark even as the crystalline shards slowly bled the life from his enfeebled veins. "If we art to die, let us die as Dwarves."
"Yer not worried, lassie?" Hanmoul, son of Dwomrul, grandson of Handrek Bronzeborn, first of his name, struggled to fathom the leap in prowess his sorceress "mate" effortlessly demonstrated. Since their chance encounters less than a Himmseg cycle ago, the Human Mage's potential for destruction had risen ten-fold.
For the Dwarf, such growth was a terrifying prospect. If Himmseg's other Mages would improve as she did, then the Deepdowners were right to fear humanity's ambitions. Hanmoul was thankful, therefore, that Gwen trusted him enough to confess that she was a unique existence among the sorcerous millions inhabiting the Mageocracy.
"Why would I be worried?" The young female stood beside his barricade of Swiftstriders all lined up to form an impromptu fort, their exteriors clad with conjured obsidian, creating a formidable hedgehog barricade. The girl had called the manoeuvre "Encircling the Wagons", though for Hanmoul's Iron Guards, the tactic was standard fare for transportation crews travelling through the Murk.
Swallowing his nerves, Hanmoul examined the map panel, marking the tide of red blips swarming down from the sides. Most were funnelling into the very tunnel they had dug to access Khorok Umgor, while others slipped through gaps and cracks, or used their innate talents to make new passageways.
Below Hanmoul, Bronzehorn's Iron Guards were by now subdued or disabled, rounded up and held at sword-point with their Smashers added as material to the barricade. Most of them appeared groggy and confused, and more than a few, Hanmoul suspected, would never recover their senses. As for Bronzehorn himself— once Hanmoul's men could cut the poor sod from his Smasher suit, he had to be restored by Lady Petra's Spellcube then dressed by their medic, Barva, so that interrogation could take place.
"It is Mind Magic, I am confident," the lassie's cousin had informed them. "I'll do what I can, but this doesn't feel like sorcery we employ. The entrenchment of the glamour is pure brute-force."
"Alright." Gwen nodded, then again pointed to the danger from the Citadel. "Hanmoul, you think Thalmar will join the fray?"
"Nay, lass." Hanmoul shook his head. Dwarves as a whole disfavoured assaults while there was a wall to stand behind. The tactic of bunkering against foes was something hardwired into the Dwarven conscience. Without radical intervention and tactical experience, it was categorically extraordinary for a Dwarven force to abandon a stronghold.
"How about Ebren and Hilda? They could make for powerful military assets if they act against us."
"Not a chance, lass." Once more, he put Gwen to ease knowing that if "Their Deepdowners" were complicit, the pair would have shown their face by now. If Hilda desired, Hanmoul would be duty-bound to escort Gwen from Khorok Umgor if both Deepdowners demanded as such.
For these reasons, the Commandrumm had sworn by the Ancestor Irøngut that they could take their time dealing with the Aberrant swarm before refocusing their attention on the problem of the rogue Engineseer and the mystery of their missing Mages and Deepdowners.
"Gracie, this is going to get rough!" The girl called out from above. "Best make sure your Contingency Ring is firmly affixed. That said, any luck with our Captain?"
"Nothing yet," Petra reported back. "We're trying, but his brain's more wool than grey matter."
Hanmoul felt his chest constrict. He had known Bronzehorn since he was a lad. He had fought in the same tunnel as Bronzehorn's father.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
The instrument panel he had extracted from the cockpit was now more red than black, indicating an imminent incursion.
"It's time," Hanmoul informed the others.
"We're surrounded? Good. Just like old times," the arrogant grumbling from above their makeshift Golem-fort was from Golos. Presently, the Wyvern had returned to its full size.
Hanmoul felt envy at the Wyvern's confidence, for if he had a body with a reach of almost twelve meters and the armour to withstand a full-strength blow from a Hulk, he would also revel in all-out-combat.
The sorceress ignored her pet Wyvern. Instead, she sent Caliban deeper until it hid under the surface in its Wyrm form, saving it as a pleasant surprise should their enemies bunch up.
Standing beside the girl, Hanmoul felt his Core shudder as invisible waves of Negative Energy cascaded from her armour.
BEEP! BEEP! His instruments flashed their final warnings.
Caliban was not in luck. As anticipated, rather than rushing through the tunnel as a single, mindless swarm, the Aberrant force was banked on the other side and sifting through the bedrock.
Some of the signatures were enormous, indicating Hulks. Others suggested Centaur variants. Thankfully, most appeared to be Crawlers or their lesser cousins, the near-mindless Collectors. The whole nest, Hanmoul judged, was out for blood. Was this because Gwen had eradicated a brood earlier? He had never thought that Aberrants could hold grudges, which was why the present scenario further lent credence to his suspicion of a "Dark Intellect" guiding their foe.
If so, someone had to be tasked with finding and eradicating the thing. In Hanmoul's experience, so long as the "mind' was close by, not until the last Aberrant fell and the earth grew fallow with their poisoned blood would the monsters know retreat.
A stone fell from the wall, revealing a pair of pinching pincers widening the path.
"How many are in the first wave?" Gwen spoke, her complexion rapidly regaining its haleness after Caliban presumably took its share.
"Three hundred, not less." Hanmoul performed the calculations with a glance. "Mostly fodder, unless they overwhelm us."
"Good." The girl nodded. "JP, Richard, cover our flanks."
"Yes, boss!" the lass' followers replied from their vantage platforms on the fort.
"Lea, don't let anything past the barricade." Richard had by now restored his always-laughing Water Sprite, a feat that was a marvel in itself.
"I am ready!" Jean-Paul, a sorcerer Hanmoul had initially perceived as a half-Hob, stood on the opposite side. "Nothing will get through."
The remaining two lasses, together with Barva, were still trying to get Bronzehorn to talk, or at least find out what had muddled his mind.
Finally, it was Hanmouls' turn.
"LADS!" the Commandrumm broadcasted to his crew. "This is it, Iron Guards! When that wave of rot hits, it's us against the tide! The odds are in our favour, so show nae fear! Keep up the fort, keep our allies safe, and keep bevvy ter drink the lassie's Mao-tai after!"
"YES! COMMANDRUMM!" came a resounding reply, fired up the thought of vital, Essence-infused alcohol from around the other side of Himmseg.
The ground shook.
More debris fell, irking the Wyvern perched atop the barricade.
"Confn!" The Wyvern vocalised in guttural Draconic. "Aldoer ekess dout marfedelom!"
"SKKAAARRRRK!" As if in reply, a dozen more blocks of debris burst into fragments, revealing pallid, scrabbling bodies struggling to escape the loose stones.
"Ready?" Gwen asked him.
"Aye. Ready." Hanmoul's fingers rested on the control units of the twin Spellswords mounted atop his Swiftstrider, now re-tooled into repair armaments. "Remember, look fer the one that does the Swarm's thinking."
"Will do," the girl replied. "Alrighty then, EVERYONE! Cover your ears!"
Hanmoul felt his Core hum as the gathering of Elemental Air and Positive Energy collected beside him, a stark contrast to the life-draining aura from before. The girl's eyes glowed blue then white, then took on a viridescent hue, transforming the sparks that leapt from her blue armour into vivid bursts of earth-seeking electricity. The toiling mana continued building for several seconds, so much that Hanmoul was sure his instruments were on the verge of popping their gaskets.
A hum of discerning tinnitus slowly built in the space between Hanmoul's head as Essence and Lightning mingled within Ariel's, growing so powerful as to distort the Invisibility shielding it from view, turning its antlers into twin branches of solid, glowing plasma.
The Dwarf covered his ears as told.
Gwen took a deep breath, then unleashed the fury of a continent.
The ground shook.
The cavern jumped.
Stones leapt into the air like struck Gobs while sleeping stalactites fell as summoned spears onto the transgressing Aberrants below.
To Gwen's knowledge, Walken's Thundering Shatter had never been used in a place like this, nor had it ever been mustered with the full force of overcharged, maximised meta-magic together with Mystic Essence.
Perhaps because Almudj was itself an embodiment of lightning fulminating over cane fields— or maybe the granite stratum's quartz and basalt were prone to such disruption— her spell distorted the air, blurred all vision, then struck the far grotto with the force of a Leviathan sliding into Sydney harbour.
The dark cave turned shadowless.
Even with their ears covered and Ariel rerouting power, Gwen's crew suffered. Hanmoul's screens exploded into a thousand shards; instrument panels popped and cladding shed their bolts to the din of clattering and clanging.
The rock wall split and sundered, crushing the Aberrants tunnelling through with a glacial mass of liquified stone turned into ten-million pieces of rolling debris. Those that escaped or were too robust to instantly perish stood stunned as the rocks turned to slag, crushing their ichorous bodies in a spontaneous avalanche of cascading slabs.
Hanmoul's Dwarves did their best to shield the party from the deluge of boulders, as did Richard. For the next few minutes and more, all Gwen's allies could focus on was managing not to be crushed by the disaster their leader had created, paying no heed to the enemies that once threatened to swallow them in a grotesque tide of teeth and claw.
"ROAAARR!" Golos battered away the fallen stones with his enormous wings, sending the rocks flying into the panicked swarm. Having the Wyvern assume its original shape proved foresightful, for the drake's reach sufficiently covered the "fort" made by the Dwarves. Likewise, though tumbling bits of igneous shards were deadly to an undefended Dwarf or Human Mage, the Wyvern's Draconic constitution made light work of otherwise haphazard labour.
"They're still coming through, but the first wave is pretty much a done deal." Petra, who kept a Clairvoyance Cube handy, took up relay duties when the Dwarves reported that they could no longer rely on their displays.
"How many?" Gwen asked through their communication devices. Almost all of their ears still buzzed with the aftermath of the Thundering Shatter.
"More than enough."
"Good!" she exclaimed. "I thought there wouldn't be enough to fill-in for future expenditure. JP! Let loose the Hounds!"
"OKAY," the Void Mage shouted back. "UMZOKWE!"
The Afrikaner's slinking Void leeches, joined by Gwen's dogs and lead by a slithering white Umzokwe and an obsidian Buck, raced for the carnage.
While the dogs cleared the distance, the slag heap began to shift and move. Crumbled granite and inert bodies were pushed apart, revealing distended limbs and powerful torsos that had not only survived the collapse but were now forcing the carcasses of their allies out of mangled tunnels. From Gwen's vantage, she couldn't help but shudder at the sight, for the scene appeared as though a nightmarish vision of pallid wasps emerging from a shattered hive to sting and stab at their hateful enemies.
"Will you look at that," Richard remarked. "There's a Hulk dragging itself out, guts and all. Damn these things are tenacious."
Following her cousin's thumb, Gwen's Essence-fed eyes saw a six-limbed siege Hulk pulling itself forward, only now its powerful torso ended where a length of exposed spine unfurled rope-loads of its purple digestive tract.
"I don't know if these things feel misery." She swallowed the bitter bile. "But I am sure as hell am going to put them out of it."
Mind Magic was different to Enchantment in that almost all of its manifestations were without visual components. Therefore, the hallmark of a good Mind Mage was subtlety.
Likewise for the victim, good Mind Magic was subconscious, unseen and natural in its application. The recipient should not feel an overtly adverse aftereffect other than a headache or a bout of fatigue, or fuzzy recollections of young women and alcohol.
In scrutinising Bronzeborn, Petra felt tempted to ask if a Chinese or Russian Mind Wipe team had gotten to the Dwarf— for the Captain's continued mental degradation had reduced the pilot's cerebral state to that of a drooling imbecile.
To her chagrin, the same effect had spread among the surviving Iron Guards under Bronzeborn, all of whom now sat demure and sedated, battered and exhausted in a modified Wall of Crystals Petra conjured to prevent the Dwarves from escaping with their innate Earthen talents.
While Gwen and company delayed the Aberrant tide, their job was to gather intelligence from the survivors, though presently, she might as well be fishing in a ditch.
Together with Gracie, the two had attempted every method from Renew Mind to Dispel Magic to Greater Dispel. When those failed, Gracie gave Hallucination and Cloud Sense a run for their money.
When nothing worked, the medic ran diagnostics on the enfeebled Bronzehorn, finally revealing the presence of an embedded "object"— the reason why whenever Petra attempted to glamour the delirious Bronzehorn, her sorcery sunk into the Dwarf's mind like a river into the sea.
"Cog! What in the Ancestors' name is this?" Barva Katri, Hanmoul's Medical Officer, held down what remained of Captain Bronzehorn with one hand. "There's a wound under his right eye, his sclera's bruised to bits."
"Let's see." Gracie leaned in. "Ouch, that looks nasty. I think they forced something into his head."
"Or something forced itself into his head..." Petra took a second to compose herself. "I guess now we know 'how'. The question now is 'what'..."
According to Hanmoul, for such a Captain-ranked officer to turn willingly— and in a manner that was so stupid and reckless, belied every training exercise Hanmoul and his men had ever conducted. Furthermore, Bronzehorn's family still lived in the Craftsmen's District, meaning even if he had succeeded, not only would he bring shame, his family would suffer for his ambition as well.
If so, what did this portend?
Was this the "Dark Intellect" that Hanmoul proposed was behind all this? Most importantly, was this being the one that attempted a Hold Monster on Gwen's person?
At the Tower, the Mind Mages were taught many things.
How to tease; how to please; how to talk, and most importantly, how to listen. Master Popov never mentioned underground monsters capable of Mind Magic, certainly not ones that dug into a person's brain.
The girls regarded the Dwarven combat medic expectantly.
"What?" The Dwarf furrowed her bushy brows. "You don't expect me to open his skull here? Aberrants are howling all over, fer Ancestor's sake! Besides, he's still alive!"
Petra considered the cost of ignoring the Dwarf's feelings and just cleaving into Bronzehorn's skull.
"Pats!" Gwen's voice rang from above, saving her from such a decision. "How's it looking? What did you find out?"
It took only ten minutes for the tide to turn.
"Buck! Return! JP! Get Ume back to base!" Gwen ordered the dogs to retreat. "Pats! How's it looking? What did you find out?"
After the Void Hounds tore apart and consumed the stragglers, a fresh wave of Aberrants began to push through the debris. The newcomers possessed a madness that surprised even Gwen, for they burst from the stone-piles and immediately snatched at the Void Hounds. A few that were still feeding on twitching Aberrants fell victim to elongated limbs with grasping claws, suffering near-critical damage before what remained of their corporeal forms could slip away and regenerate.
"Sorry, Gwennie. His head's cotton candy," her cousin reported from below. "Hanmoul's right, though. Something was controlling him. Something like a device or a parasite on par with Dominate Mind."
"... Fuck, I am so sorry, Hanmoul." Gwen turned to the Commandrumm with a face full of sympathy. Their initial plan had been to gain intelligence and then act on it. Now— they'd have to play it by ear. "How do you want to proceed?"
"We must find the Aberrant's whip," Hanmoul commented through his viewfinder. "Easier said than done though, lassie. These new buggers look old and experienced with better spell resistance ter boot. It's nae going ter be an easy fight."
"It would be if we can funnel them." Gwen watched her dogs retreat. "Dick, any ideas? What do you think about a V-shaped Blade Barrier? Maybe I can flood the place with an Elemental Swarm? I am not sure how effective that would be though— these Aberrants aren't very vital."
Her cousin's eyes shone with a keen malevolence. Gwen knew Richard had been on more adventures than she had and could always be trusted to give good advice. "You're looking to ambush them with Cali, correct?"
"Yeah, but the buggers are skirmishing us now. They've learned."
"Then don't use Cali for mass-Consume." Richard looked over the barricade. "I'd say we save Cali as a hunter-killer unit. Hanmoul said the Aberrants would fight to the last monster if their leader lives, right? Then all we need to do is focus on finding and Consuming the leader."
Gwen nodded. Dick's proposal made sense.
"At the same time, we can try to mill the swarm down— I mean, it is not as though we have a choice. We can surround the Strider with a Lightning Blade Barrier, and set the space above us with a Void variant of Cloud Kill. Have the dogs fight them outside for as long as possible, let the numbers build, then we can focus on AOE. At some point, one of us can locate this 'Dark Intellect' of Hanmoul's, after which Cali can nix it."
"Gracie and I can try and Scry its whereabouts," Petra informed the party. "How are you planning to get to it if we do?"
"Cali can dig undetected, correct?"
"More or less," Gwen said. "With enough vitality at its disposal, anyway."
"SHAA! SHAA!" Caliban echoed the sentiment in her mind.
Gwen briefly pictured an infamous worm from a specific sandy planet full of spice. Caliban was nowhere near such epic, mythic proportions, but she was confident a "Wyrm" with two dozen lamprey tentacles would have no trouble stuffing an Aberrant brain into its gullet.
"Alright, that sounds good to me." Gwen turned to the rest of the party. "Hanmoul, can your Swiftstriders hold up?"
"Aye, my Guards and I will keep the fort standing, or meet the Ancestors trying..." the Commandrumm nodded. "Do what yer must, girlie. Don't worry yer whiskers about old Hanmoul."
"Nonsense. We're the ones with Contingency Rings," Gwen reminded Hanmoul while self-consciously touching the top of her lips for said whiskers. "We'll survive, more or less, but you and your kin might become the next wave of Aberrants…"
"Ha! Irøngut would turn in the Ancestor's Halls before that happens!" The Dwarf steeled his eyes. "Alright, lads! Yer heard the Devourer! Let nothing through! Bumrorlim! Keep yer ears to the ground and make sure none of the buggers undermines us! We survive this, and I'll give yer Bronzehorn's Third Legion!"
"Yes, Commandrumm!" Hanmoul's cousin saluted with a Sign of the Interlocking Cog.
“Tordok, Tordum, Grimgal!”
"Til' the Ancestors call!"
"AYE!" Hanmoul flexed his gauntlets, returning the Cog Sign. "Do or Die, LADS! Show them Murk rats that Dwarves bow to no monster!"
Without their IIUC experience, Gwen was confident her party would have shat their pants by now.
As predicted, the reemerging Aberrants punching through the debris field were either veterans or upper-tier variants, both individually cunning and capable of working in small groups. Even a single kill was fraught with danger, for when Gwen harried the pallid monstrosities with her dogs, she found that more often than not, they either ignored her bait or set ambushes.
Though the encounter's slow escalation to an all-out melee felt as slow as molasses, in real-time, it took only a few minutes for Gwen's wagon-circle to be completely overwhelmed.
A glowing halo of electric current ignited at the wagon fort's base, sparking into life arcing plasma blades by the hundreds. Unlike the vorpal edge of the Void barrier, the energy-based blades could only leave gashes and gouges on the scarred flesh of the pale marauders milling into their killing zone. The deterrent, however, was efficient enough to dissuade both the Crawlers and the long-limbed Collectors.
"ROOOOWARR!" Golos was a blur of tooth and claw, club and wing, thrashing, throwing, biting and tossing Aberrants from the Dwarf-made mound, role-playing a future king of the hill. In only a dozen rounds of melee, his lower torso grew coated in corrosive ichor, though thanks to his Draconic constitution, the searing agony only roused his ire.
"Chain Lightning!" a sonorous female voice rang out from within the skittering pile of stabbing legs trying to drag down the Wyvern. The first chain struck out from below, while the second and third chains leapt from nearer the ceiling where a pseudo-Kirin acted the spell turret.
CRACK—BOOM! An echoing fulmination broke across the cavern.
The top of the wagon-fort glowed viridescent with currents of criss-crossing electricity, then exploded as the compressed energies of the upper-tier evocation erupted, sending a mass of limbs and body parts flying through the air.
Golos howled, revelling in the violence.
The Aberrants cramming into the void left by the previous attack fell back as multiple electric novae rang out, empowering the Thunder Wyvern and sending their foe skittering.
"WEAK!" Golos cackled. "CALAMITY! MORE!"
"EE!" came a thrilling battle cry from above. Ariel's horns were white-hot with inefficiently expended mana. Gwen grunted, sharing in the stifling agony Ariel sustained when shifting Elemental Lightning through its conduits. With its repressed Affinity, the effort applied was like squeezing a bag of over-thick batter through a clogged sieve.
"Ball Lightning!" Four more explosions tore through the undulating pile of pallid skin and sinews, clearing a path for less than a second before other bodies piled in.
If anything, the battle's direction made it apparent that either the Aberrants all died— or the Human Mages OoMed and Teleported back, leaving their Dwarven "Mates" to suffer fates worse than death.
"LEA! LEFT FLANK!" Richard directed Lea's super-pressurised jets toward a pair of jaws that had bitten through the reinforced sheet metal of the Swiftstrider barricade. The pummelling mass of super-pressurised water instantly filled the gap, bloating the offending maw with so much liquid that the stiffening body behind it exploded like a popped balloon.
"Grimgal!" Hanmoul redirected his crew even as he repaired another punctured hole made by the monstrous beings.
"Got it!" Grimgal steered the tethered Spellsword back toward the momentarily empty hole. Ignoring the ichor and the gore, she welded shut the rent just in time to catch a scribbling pair of elongated digits trying to widen the gap, severing the finger so suddenly that the fallen extremity continued to dance on the venom soaked floor.
Opposite, JP served the same purpose as Richard with his Signature Spell Usurpation, filling in rents and holes with motes of self-expanding Void matter that fed on the flesh of their enemies. Unlike Gwen's Enervating Orb, the Void Mage's spell possessed the means to condense Void matter under his complete control, minimising friendly fire.
Gracie and Petra stood on elevated platforms in the middle, guarding their collection of drooling prisoners and firing off support spells to ease the burden on their defenders. Concurrently, the girls had Scrying pools conjured in front of them as they scanned for signs of whatever was controlling the swarm. Each took a quadrant, and each searched for static mana signatures within the roving sea of moving pings and blips.
"I think we found it!" Gracie shouted up at the floating Mages fending off the swarm. "Er… I think?"
"What is it?" Their leader finished off another round of explosive, Aberrant rending Evocation.
With one hand, Petra threw the projection forward until the Scrying pool expanded for all to see.
"CHAIN LIGHTNING!" Gwen fired off another volley of Lightning Bolts, feeling her tank drop to half. Upon seeing Hanmoul's boogieman, her eyes widened. "The F— M-Mysterio? No, wait, is that a Dwarf?"
In the mirage-like pane, the party observed a Dwarf garbed in rubbery armour from head to toe, with an overlarge helmet of semi-translucent obsidian in the form of an upturned fishbowl. Left without context, none of them would have suspected their offender of being anything other than a Dwarf in a Murk suit. However, within the Scryed vision, the stunted Demi-human stood in a tunnel crawling with Aberrants, directing the troops.
"Bürumm-Dal's Beard!" Hanmoul's voice came from below. "That's Farron Galrol, Captain of the Murk Divers! WHY?"
"Never mind why." Gwen cast her eyes toward the insensible Iron Guards of Bronzehorn's Legion then back toward the projection. In her mind, she willed her tunnelling Wyrm forward toward the location Gracie had indicated. "Cali… I want that thing nixed..."