Hidden in the outer orbital passage of Khorok Umgor, a Klad-covered silhouette stood among leaping, howling masses of warped flesh bellowing for blood.
If any Dwarves were present, they would have recognised the visage as that of a Murk Diver, a specialist Legionnaire trained in infiltration, discovery, and mineral-finding. However, they might wonder why such an august member of the Citadel kept company with a ravening horde of rabid chimaeras.
Furthermore, if they could see the throbbing organ hidden within the semi-opaque obsidian helmet, stimulating the glans grown into the Aberrants' spines, they would grow warier still.
"SKARRK!" the dome Dwarf screeched.
A pulse of reverberating telepathy rang out, bouncing around the walls and the bodies of its numberless minions, whipping the swarm forward.
A second later, its echoing thought returned with the assurance that there were no enemies near. Satisfied, it reached out once more, seizing each node of bestial consciousness embedded in the retarded organs of its minions.
Despite its numeric supremacy, the creature was worried; for against all expectation, the battle had gone awry.
Though diminished by distance, it participated in the anxiety of its brood still bastioned in the Citadel, rushing to create the Thralls necessary to halt the Human incursion so they wouldn't have to.
Initially, their entwined wisdom had deduced that the Human Mages would soon be exhausted. Collectively, they understood that where Dwarves seldomly wielded overwhelming power, their longevity and ability to re-arm and fortify made them troublesome prey. On the other tentacle, the Humans began every battle with overwhelming prowess but seldom could continue the fight longer than a stone cycle. Both were conclusions directly extracted from their Thralls' grey matter, and therefore could not be false.
Thus far, despite heavy losses on their side, the newly arrived Human Mages did not appear to be losing mana.
Nonetheless, the brood was confident the Humans should exhaust themselves shortly.
And once captured, these august specimens would add to the brood's body of knowledge.
Verily, it looked forward to inhabiting the alpha female. Earlier, it had entered her mind and found the vitality of her body more exquisite than anything it had ever experienced since emerging from the brine pool.
Unfortunately for the thoughtful Dwarf, it did not notice its favourite female's Familiar rapidly ascending from below, paralleling its predatory thoughts.
Therefore, the "Dark Intellect" realised far too late that some aberrant thing was about to breach the stones beneath its feet.
The floor below it shrunk in the manner of a rapidly-forming sink hole possessing the pull of a Maelstrom. That and several tentacles, each armed with lamprey lips not uncommon to the demi-plane where it lived had pierced into its Klad-suit.
In a blind panic, the creature aimed its will downward and musted all its might for a psionic strike.
Its thoughts, which would usually stun or pierce the mind of any lucid foe, rolled over the expanding tripartite lips like water off a Murk eel's hide.
Out of beak-clenching habit, the doomed creature performed a final act— probing its killer's mind to send a warning back to its brood.
Hunger— that was the thought its abominable mind communicated.
Depthless, insatiable hunger.
"Did ya get em, lassie?" Hanmoul shouted from below. "Is it nixed?"
"A snap and shut case," Gwen informed her party over their Message Devices, shaking herself out of Caliban VR lest her hunger grew too tangled with her Familiar's. "Alright, Hanmoul, let's see if your hypothesis is correct. Gracie, you can ease off now."
"Okay!" Their newest member withdrew the vitality expenditure of her Phantasmal Force. As an illusionist, her phantom "Hounds" cost significantly less life-force than Gwen's Conjuration variant. The offset was that Void Illusions lacked the advantage of Negative Drain, albeit pitted against the right opponent, she could instil spontaneous insanity. In the future, Gwen figured, Gracie would have to create Signature Spells, a noteworthy but not improbable feat, especially considering her tenure at Cambridge and the enthusiasm of Maxwell Brown.
Clad in static as a neon goddess, Gwen let loose consecutive Lightning Bolts. As much as her rip-roaring mass-bombardment spells showed off the extraordinary destructive potential of her Affinity, the simplicity of the tier 3 staple relaxed rather than taxed her mind.
"HA! WEAK!" Golos shouted from above, raining spittle and bloody foam down on his team members. Rents and gashes covered the Wyvern from tail to toe and marred the length of his majestic neck. The flesh wounds looked worse than they were in actuality, but even so, the horror made Gwen frown. "They're more lively now. Calamity, did your fiend consume another nest or what?"
Golos' guess was as good as her's, Gwen thought as she observed the leaping horde piling on top of one another, impaling themselves on whatever space was left, even if it meant humping an obsidian shard. Once more, she thought of what would happen if these creatures ever made it to the surface. If the Siege of Sydney replaced zealous Mermen looking to loot with these stomachs on legs, what manner of a catastrophe would that engender?
Then it happened.
The assault of the Aberrant tide lost their singular focus.
Individually, the monsters were still fighting fit. From Gwen's levitated vantage, however, she sensed that something had pulled the adrenaline plug and replaced it with a general madness. Not only were the monsters fighting Golos, her Mages, and the scant Morden's Hounds that still lived, they were now also fighting among themselves.
It must be the hunger— a stray thought filtered through. The Aberrants' bodies are not unlike hers in that while active, they consumed vital internal energies to fuel their frenzy. Now that she had robbed their nest and its essential nutrients, the hive must hunt indefinitely or perish. Whatever the case, she acknowledged that these "Dark Intellects" that Hanmoul mentioned must be truly sadistic with designs utterly alien to Humanity and its allies.
"How's it look?" Hanmoul asked anxiously. "Did nix'n Farron Galrol help?"
Gwen returned her attention to the undulating tide of bodies bashing against their barricade and now one another. Whenever a claw or maw pierced the rubbery hide of an ally, the accidental violence would engender a maddened blur of frenzied self-destruction. Like hens pecking at a diseased companion, fresh carnage would break loose near the wounded Aberrant, be they Hulk or Centaur, ending when the victim became gnawed, brittle bone.
But of course, such furore would never end at one victim. In the insane scramble for food, others would emerge, wounded by the insensible, omnidirectional attacks. Like street cats thrown into a bag, the Aberrants turned from fighting Dwarves and Humans to each other, with pockets of the swarm descending entirely into derangement.
All monsters had weaknesses, Gwen profoundly observed. For the Aberrants, was destroying the nest the lynchpin? Or was it the extinction of Mysterio Dwarf? Or perhaps both?
"I think," Petra observed the fray from below through Scry. "That the 'Dark Intellect' Dwarf must be suppressing the instincts of these creatures to keep them advancing as an orderly horde. We see it with the Highland Demi-humans and the High Shamans of the Northern Steppes who make use of monster tides."
"Like a node?" Gwen whipped at the horde mercilessly. Was Petra right? Was Mysterio merely a relay, like the ones refracting resonance from a Shield Generator?
"Ya think?" Hanmoul's expression remained grim. "If Farron's a node— then what's the source?"
"SHAA—SHAA!" Just in time, Caliban's arrival brought answers the party sought.
"What's that?" Gwen asked of her Familiar when Cali began to act coy through their mental link. "You brought me something?"
In her mind, the worm nodded. The inference Gwen had empathically received was the understanding that one of her cats had caught something in the garden and was now taking it inside the house for show and tell.
"SHAA!" Caliban pierced through the crust at the bottom of the barricade, merely inconvenienced by the transmuted metal as its caustic Void-saliva melted through the warded steel.
"Ancestor's Beard!" Hanmoul swore. "Give us a warning, lass!"
"Shaa! SHAA!" Caliban rose until its upper body hovered above the Swiftstrider barricade. It wiggled its bloated waist, as if to show off, then split itself in twain by peeling back its shell.
"Alright, alright." Hanmoul waved off the apology with a gauntleted hand, fighting the induced vertigo.
The Wyrm's faceless mien leaned over, then with an enthused SHAA! Its tongues rolled outwards, vomiting forth its prize. The party collective ceased breathing for a moment as the contents of Caliban's gullet poured onto the metal planks.
Their prize consisted mostly of piecemeal Aberrants coated in corrosive Void-goo, that and blocks of precious metal collected during its passage.
Most importantly, there was a Dwarf— or what's left of a Dwarf's upper torso, sans legs, one arm, left lumbar and most of her innards. What surprised Gwen was that she had only thought of capturing the Dwarf in passing and had not given express orders for its recovery. Could this imply a new tier of empathic understanding in her Familiar?
"Clever girl!" She patted her Familiar.
"Farron Galrol!" Hanmoul recognised the inscriptions on the armour. "Ancestor's Beard! What a way ter go."
"Shaa! Shaa!" Caliban slid wetly into its hole, then reemerged in a manner that was borderline obscene. "SHAA!"
"Of course you can," Gwen understood her Familiar's desire to burst in on the anarchic Aberrants to harvest whatever life it could.
With another happy "SHAA!" Caliban slid itself back into the vertical tunnel like a jack-in-the-box, causing Golos to expel an audible whimper.
Gwen looked up.
The Wyvern's blaming eyes met her demanding gaze.
A split-second of understanding passed between Master and Wyvern.
"Good work, Gogo," Gwen delivered her heartfelt praise. Gogo had worked hard this time around. The missing scales and the sheer volume of corroded wounds on the drake's body was plentiful evidence of how hard the Wyvern had fought for her sake. "Essence and SPAM later? These Aberrants are rather malnourished…"
Golos returned to clubbing Aberrants with a grunt.
"J-P!" She re-engaged command of the field. "I think we can start mop-up operations. I'll take left flank— you take the right."
"Yes, Ma'am!" Jean-Paul agreed without complaint. "Umzokwe!"
The freshly reborn leech slithered from the Void to happily vault the barrier, hungry for confused Aberrants. To aid in their efforts, Jean-Paul conjured corpse worms akin to Umzokwe, while Gwen settled for a threesome of vitality-harvesting Hydras.
"How many dogs have we got left?" Gwen asked her crew.
Petra indicated that her dogs were spent, as did Jean-Paul.
Richard's perishable pets hung around thanks to their ability to turn incorporeal via Lea but would serve little purpose as hunter-killers. As for Gwen's dogs, all had died to the crushing horde of tooth and claw, fulfilling their purpose.
"Any reaction from the citadel and our Engineseer?" Gwen demanded of Hanmoul. "This Farron fellow was one of their's, I assume."
"Aye." Hanmoul left the defence to his men and approached the helmeted carcass of the Murk Diver's Captain. "She WAS a Master-tier Diver, one of the best Earth Striders in Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth. It's a nasty way ter perish, getting nixed by the Void. And aye, Khorok Umgor remains silent."
"They don't want to strike while we're OoM?" Gwen furrowed her brows.
She had enough left to fight, though she couldn't say the same for the traditional casters in her party like Richard. Petra as well was running low as she had provided buffs and defence together with active barrier-building.
"Well, we're in a fort." Hanmoul pointed out something that no Dwarf would deny. "They're in a better fort. And they're Dwarves. As I said, abandoning defensive positions isn't in their blood."
Gwen mulled over the Commandrumm's fuzzy logic while the battle between their monsters seesawed back and forth.
For another hour, the carnage continued, with most of the killing performed by herself and Jean-Paul's minions until finally, the Aberrant horde began to disperse. Even as the pale and skittering bodies started to retreat into the dark crevices of the cavern, Caliban and Umzokwe pursued, dragging limbs and half-consumed torsos down from ceilings with sticky projectiles, or dragging screeching creatures underground with pink tentacled tongues. Her Hydras, lacking the Familiars' speed, went about slurping up broken stragglers, too damaged to escape, too wounded to fight.
The spectacle was mesmerising even for the hardboiled Mages. Without Gwen and Jean-Paul present, they would have wondered which side were theirs.
"Umm… Gwen?" It was Gracie who raised her hand and dispelled the stupor. Gwen had tasked her and Petra to pry apart the rubbery, interlocking armour, hoping to reveal some worthy intel Bronzehorn had failed to elucidate. "I think you and Hanmoul need to come and see this. I believe we found your 'Dark Intellect'."
Still mystified by the lack of response from Khorok Umgor, Gwen dropped down with Richard, putting Golos in charge of any overambitious Aberrants seeking final glory.
"I am here," their sparkle-fingered leader landed. "What's the— HOLY HELL, WHAT THE FUCK?"
There was a Merman's head, INSIDE the Dwarf's helmet. Where Farron's "face" should be, she was dead set staring at a Mon Calamari.
"Is it dead?" Gwen could hardly believe her eyes. Had the Mermen penetration of the Planes come so far as to infiltrate the Murk? "Wow. Just like the movies."
"Aye, tis the tentacled 'Intellect' like the one I saw," Hanmoul confirmed her horror while ignoring her Gwenism. "But why is it wearing one of our suits?"
From the neckband of the Diver's suit that sealed the interior, they could see rubbery flesh more so resembling the underside of a squid; only this one had multiple skin folds that reminded Gwen of gills. Its eyes as well, were enormous and bulbous, protruding from either side of its elongated skull, tied to its face by powerful optic musculature. More notably, there were four tentacles, each ending in fingertip appendages that now lay limp on its cheeks. Within its gaping mouth, teeth that were once incisors had fused to become a parrot's beak.
"Imposter Dwarves!" Gwen sucked in a breath of tepid air. "Holy shit! Hilda— do you think—"
"It's not a disguise." Hanmoul shook his head. Using a length of Spellsword, the Commandrumm pried open a portion of the suit still hanging onto the carcass's torso. There was a Glyph there, tattooed into the skin like a Ta Moko. "See here, that's a Glyph of Dark Passage. It's what Farron would have earned when training to be a Murk Diver. Within the inner Glyph, you can see the Cog and Anvil of House Galrol."
"I don't understand, why are there Mermen in the Murk this far from water?" Gwen pivoted her hypothesis. "And wearing Golem suits."
"She's wearing a Klad," Hanmoul said. "Those who do not wish to be tainted by the light of Himmseg wear Klad sanctified by Deepholm."
"Alright, so that's a Klad," Gwen nodded. "So, are these Mermen infiltrators? I heard there are underground oceans. I mean, if there are giant Brain-whales, why not a Calamari-Dwarf?"
"Gwen, I think it's a parasitic creature attached to Farron," Gracie pointed to the difference between the skin textures of the body and the face. "If we're looking at a head that doesn't match the neck, that's usually the case. There's lots of precedence in nature. The Evermore Mistletoe, for example, assumes complete control of the trunk. The Wright Fungi found in the Deep Murk does the same, rooting themselves inside a Murk Stinger's spinal column to subvert the host's control of their body. There's a kind of aquatic Murk mite that eats their fish host's tongue, and then becomes the tongue itself while controlling the fish…"
"Jesus Christ, the Murk is underground Australia." Gwen felt her skin crawl all over. "Hanmoul, considering that we still need to know what the hell we're fighting next. Do you want to do the honours?"
Hanmoul pointed the sword's tip at the centre of the squid's head. "Am sure the Ancestors won't mind if we need ter ken if there are imposters in our midst."
With a swift strike, the Commandrumm split the head in twain.
A gush of foul, yellow liquid with the consistency of yolk immediately escaped the parted skull.
"Brumdahr's beard, there's no skullcap!" Hanmoul immediately cleaned his blade with a runic word. "Cuts like a rotten melon."
"That explains the fishbowl." Gwen waited for Richard to hose down the two halves, then exhaled deeply when what they'd all been expecting came into view.
"Where's her brain?" Gracie's eyes widened with horror. "Jesus, is that all in the head? There's a heart, gills, digestive tracts, nerve vessels by the bundle..."
"Talk about living rent-free." Gwen grimaced, then pointed to the white, fatty bits that formed a fist-shaped cluster of vessels and nerve endings. "I assume that's the brain of the Mon Calamari and not our Dwarf."
"Aye." Hanmoul prodded the jello-like fat. "Mon Calamari, eh?"
Gwen traced the cross-sectioned nerves' pattern until her eyes lingered on the beginnings of the hewed spinal column.
"You know what?" she said suddenly, realising that they had been stunned by this turn of events without acknowledging the significance of what this portended. "While we're standing here marvelling at our specimen, wouldn't there be a dozen more of these fuckers inside the Citadel waiting to head-hump Hildy?"
At once, the party of chagrined rescuers turned their attention to the pockmarked walls of Khorok Umgor.
"Gather up and mana up," Gwen gave the order even as her blood ran ice cold. "Let's get ready to breaking through."
"If we had the Smashers, we might be able to entangle Thalmar," Hanmoul remarked as the Swiftstriders untangled themselves from the mangled Golem armours. From Bronzehorn, the Dwarves only managed to recover three suits, now used to defend the survivors. "As fer now, I am afraid we'll only get in yer way."
"Nonsense," a scarlet-cheeked Gwen replied as she rebalanced the vitality Caliban and the Hydras were feeding back into their collective vital pool. "You did well defending us, Hanmoul, and now you're our support once more. Assuming we can recover our Mages, we're going to need rapid exfiltration to the ISTC station in Merthyr Tydfil. No way that's happening without you."
The Dwarf agreed with a depressing solemnity.
"I'll do the fighting in your stead, Earthen one." Golos leaned his massive head closer, forming a formidable backdrop to the svelte sorceress's profile, not unlike a classical fantasy lumen-poster. The drake appeared pleased while picking at the scabs with a claw, licking the Aberrant ichor clean. "You can owe me a debt as well, hahaha…"
"Gogo, don't be rude," Gwen waved off her Wyvern. "Alright, any suggestions? Petra, any parley demands?"
Her cousin shook her head.
"I smell the Humans still," Golos reminded Gwen. "And they stink as well."
"A delay tactic?" Richard tossed in his two cents after packing away an empty mana injector. "More Calamari coming our way, perhaps."
Gwen rubbed her throbbing forehead. Since accidentally naming the squid-faced brain parasites, "Mon Calamari", was now fast-stuck inside everyone's heads.
"Right, then we proceed as discussed. JP, you take care of the Balefire's spell-chains. Once we immobilise it, Cali will attempt to swallow it wholesale, and we'll try to subdue the rest of the Murk Divers with our Morden's Hounds. Dick, knowing how fast that thing casts, we're going to need you to catch whatever JP misses."
"Of course." Richard gave her the thumbs up. "Lea's ready to pull some squids from their Klads."
"I'll drown them all!" The Undine's voice rippled through the air like ice. "Especially the ones that hurt me!"
"They're squids, so they probably aren't prone to drowning." Richard patted the invisible shape beside him. "Too bad Yue isn't here, else we could have calamari teppanyaki."
Thinking sweetly of their foul-mouthed firebrand, Gwen relaxed her nerves. "Alright, any luck with the Scry?"
Gracie shook her head. "I can't get through the wall to find our Mages, sorry, Gwen. Maybe if we get closer."
The team studied the distance between them and the Citadel. They were currently well out of Spellsword range, and by Gwen's reckoning, the Balefire's rapid spell-assault had only half the reach of an Obsidian Shard. If they teleported closer, they might succeed in conjuring a penetrative Scry or Clairvoyance— but at the same time, Gracie and Petra would be within the range of artillery spells.
"I'll keep Gracie safe," Petra assured her cousin by withdrawing six defensive Spellcubes kept afloat via Naga heads. "For now, gather round for Mind Wards. My Abjuration is woeful, but better an impoverished mental barrier than nothing at all."
"I should buy us all Mind Ward earrings," Gwen remarked while the team received their final benedictions. "I never did replenish the one that got nixed in Shenyang."
Petra's eyes lingered on her cousin's thoughtful face. "If I acquired mid to upper-tier Mind spells, I can Enchant the items myself."
A current warmth ran through Gwen's solar plexus, which inspired her to lean in and embrace Petra. With the Balefire Golem waiting impatiently to unleash hell up them, Gwen felt a genuine nostalgia for the "simple" days at Fudan, when all they had to deal with were Fu-er-dai cockfights and not Calamari head humpers.
Like walking on an invisible ladder, Gwen stepped into the air.
"Shaa! Shaa!" Caliban had assumed its position underground, ready to entangle a Balefire.
"EE! EE!" Ariel launched its invisible self forward, ready to deliver its mistress' displeasure.
Gwen took a deep breath.
For the second time in as many hours, Khorok Umgor leapt into the air.
Usually, such as in the case of Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth, a Citadel's walls were built by generations of stonemasons piling Enchantment enhanced stones through interlinked Glyph works. Performed correctly, not only were the walls impervious to non-catastrophic damage, they effortlessly survived inevitable Turnings of the Earth-Dragon.
Khorok Umgor was a stronghold build within a month. Its parapets and barriers were reinforced slabs of tilted granite raised and conjured from Elemental Plane.
When the Thundering Shatter struck, the impact manifested as a million hair-line cracks appearing along the wall at once, followed by the rapid liquefaction of the load-bearing base transformed into a crushing wave of crumbling slag.
Gwen had chosen a frontal assault because of the ease of forced entry combined with the lack of desire to become trapped in the claustrophobic space of a sealed interior. She had also chosen the strategy because no "Dwarves" were staffing the walls, and even if there were, she suspected it would be those fish-bowled Calamari Mysterios that used Ooze Magic.
It took a few seconds for the dust to clear.
Gwen's Essence-focused pupils grew into twin pinpoints.
"MOTHER FUCKER!" their team leader's curse swept through the still-ringing cavern. From her vantage point, the scene that came into view killed both motivation and momentum.
As anticipated, there were no Dwarves, but there were plenty of Humans. Against all expectation, the Human Mages Gwen had vowed to save were not trapped in stone halls or suffering in watery dungeons, but milling about like drones in the courtyard.
What was worse was that there were no screams nor complaints, just impassive stoicism as the wall folded onto their upright bodies.
Without a Dwarf's innate fortitude or the ability to Stoneshape— without even activating their Shields, the volunteer "Murk Mages" from the Shard took on the brunt of the rolling slabs, some larger and taller than a grown man, others the size of their heads.
The invocations of a maximum range Dimension Door was on Gwen's lips within a split-second.
"Gwen! Don't!" Petra's voice halted her cousin's impulse.
"They're glamoured!" Gracie's voice rang from a Message spell blooming by her ear. "Don't go, Gwen, what if they're lying in wait?"
Despite the blind rage coursing through her conduits, Farron's squid-shaped frontal lobe flashed across her own.
"Magus Song, the Iron Guard will go first," Hanmoul volunteered, revving the engines of his Swiftstrider. "If they restrain us, do what you must. They can't control all of us; else they would have taken Khorok Umgor long ago."
Their leader cooled her heated head by circulating Void to dull the adrenaline, then ordered the minions to advance past the Dwarves.
"Buck! Astro! Umzokwe! Bring me the prisoners and dig out the survivors!"
The monstrous army of dogs fanned out, launching like multi-coloured rockets over the jagged granite. Fuming but still calm enough to remain out of spell-reach, Gwen held her position as her Lightning Hounds blazed onto the base of the collapsed wall.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Hanmoul's jerry-rigged instruments burst into life.
The Dwarf invoked the thrice-jammed cog.
A pillar of heat sprung into existence where the dogs made a mad scramble up the hillside. Even from outside the spell's maximum manifestation range, they heard the in-ward sucking of air as superheated Magma gathered into a point, then—
An explosion rang out, taking three of her dogs and sending the rest skittering and rolling down the slag heap. On the other side, Gwen saw the shockwave pummel the milling Mages. A new piece of debris, as large as Buck, rolled into the loosely positioned crowd, instantly reducing two insensible Adventurers to wine stains.
Gwen's mind turned white with superheated fury. The fucking—
"THALMAR! YER ANCESTOR-CURSED ABERRANT!" Hanmoul's voice burst like a thunderclap. The Dwarf stood on both accelerator pedals, his expression so contorted with rage that his speech shuddered. "CRAVEN BASTARD! ARE YER STILL A DWARF!?"
"We need to push through." Richard's voice cut through the chaos. "Forget the hostages. They're dead Mages walking. Be it from the Mind Magic or the Calamari or Thalmar, or if we leave them by retreating, they're fucked. If we pussyfoot this, then they died for nothing."
Between the roaring blasts and her team members, Gwen's mind buzzed from the mental tinnitus of seeing Mages she was tasked to rescue dying deaths of no worth.
But she was no longer that young girl who Gunther had rescued from Blackheath. She was now the MVP of the IIUC and a certified War Mage. Unlike the Gwen Song of Forrestville, the Magus Song of London had put down a city of ten thousand Undead and razed a peninsular of Triffidus.
The fire fled, rapidly replaced by chilling ice.
As the liquid lead in her veins solidified, calculated choices crystallised within her mind.
To do as Richard suggested would benefit her party by far. Gwen did not know if the Empire would hold her accountable for innocent lives, but she had no doubt that every Mage dying to misadventures equated more weight London could exert to pry open the Dyar Morkk.
The alternative was obvious.
Kill the Mon Calamari, nuke the Balefire, free the Mages, find Hilda, then go back to Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth to find out if the Deepdowners there had tentacles for beards. The difficulty of that, comparatively, bordered on masochism.
She glanced at her teammates.
Richard and Golos were both eager to begin the assault, their expression showing either conviction or complete disregard for the hostages.
Petra silently awaited her cousin's decision.
Gracie's eyes were wider than hers had been, and the Illusionist's mouth still hung on its hinges, her pink tongue parched and hesitant.
Jean-Paul stared straight ahead, his intent beyond her comprehension.
Hanmoul and his Dwarves were already halfway, fully ready to make up for his kin's shameful display.
"Gwen, don't..." Richard read her mind. "It's a trap!"
Her frontal lobes throbbed. The rational part of her wanted to listen to Dick, but what choice did she have? Who could have thought that the damned molluscs would have a one-up on the Empire?