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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

2/2

Blue was acting strangely.

The teleports to the surface had been turned off, and the hunting parties that had been out at the time had been forcibly returned to the habitat.  They’d described that the ground had simply fallen away under them, dropping them into a sand pit, and then they’d been teleported back. Cheya was still gathering reports but it looked like every single person had been removed from the surface.

In hindsight, the replacement of the tunnel with the teleporter for the sake of safety seemed sinister.  Even a trapped and uncertain path to the surface was a path to the surface; now they were stuck some unknown distance underground.  Suddenly the faux sky was claustrophobic.

She didn’t want to panic.  Blue hadn’t been capricious so far.  But nothing that was happening boded well for the future, and she might have to ask the fourth-tiers to see what they could do to break everyone out.

Then one of Cheya’s shadow-clones appeared, not even trying to look like the woman herself. “Message from Shayma,” she said abruptly.  “Blue spotted an army approaching. He’ll be recalling Shayma soon so you can coordinate.”

The worry that had been aimed at Blue’s actions twisted and pointed at something else instead.  There was only one source for such an army, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to deal with Vok Nal.

But maybe Blue was.  If he was pulling away the hunting parties, he was intending to defend them in some way.  Even if it was just to provide a fortress bulwark or a hiding spot. “Shayma also sent two individuals to you, apparently they are her adventuring companions and one of them is a [Primal Healer].”

She didn’t recognize the ‘Primal’ portion of the label, but an actual healer Class would be a godsend for a battle.  Though in this case, Power-sent. “Good. Bring Shayma here as soon as she appears. And invite her companions downstairs, I’ll meet them in a moment.”

“An army?  That sounds like fun!”  The Hurricane said gleefully from where she was perched atop a chair’s back, lounging insouciantly against her staff.  “I haven’t been able to fight an army in ages.  Sorry guys, I claim this one!”

“I’m pretty sure a rebellion of irregulars doesn’t count,” Yamal said with amusement.  “Besides, this is a mage-king’s army. You’re probably the only one here that has the right Skills for mass combat that way, but who knows how many elites they have?”

“If we weren’t stuck here I could go scout,” The Hurricane grumbled.

“If you weren’t stuck here you’d already be attacking them.  There’d be no scouting.” Liril yawned. “I’m fine with letting them come to us.  If they can even get at us.”

“All they need is earth mages,” Iniri said.  “I don’t think we’re that deep.”

“Twentieth floor mana density,” Yamal grunted. “That’s at least half a mile for normal dungeons.”

“Which Blue isn’t.” 

“...and the tunnel had a rise of maybe fifty yards.”  Liril shrugged.

“Except Blue uses spatial magic.”  The Hurricane pointed out, balancing her chair on a single leg.  “Let’s face it, we might even be in the sky for all we can tell. With the [Warding] this has there’s no way to tell!”  She cheerfully waggled her finger at Liril, her staff imitating the motion. “Isn’t it exciting?”

“No.”

“Focus, people.”  Iniri cut in. “Regardless of what Blue has in mind, I’m sure I will need you for this.  If we’re lucky, Vok Nal himself isn’t here, but last I knew he still had a number of elite monsters that were a match for fourth-tiers like yourself.”

“Like them, maybe,” The Hurricane bragged.  “Not like myself.”

Yamal just rolled his eyes.

“Hey, I saw that.  Best outta three?”

Iniri wasn’t particularly offended by the lack of respect - if nothing else, fourth-tiers were laws unto themselves - but she was getting a bit irritated by the lack of care.  The reason people used armies was that most fourth-tiers didn’t have Skills that could wipe out hordes, and a few elites could tie them down while the lower levels went after softer targets.  Under the circumstances, those softer targets were her subjects.

“Shayma has arrived.”  Cheya’s shadow cut in, and Iniri escaped downstairs.

“Iniri!”  Shayma lit up the moment Iniri appeared on the stairwell, hurrying over to her with two other women in tow.

“Shayma.”  Iniri was slightly more reserved, but still smiled and pulled Shayma into a hug.  “I’m glad you’re back, I just wish it was under better circumstances.”

“This is the second time we’ve been stuck somewhere with an army closing in.  Let’s not make it a habit?” Shayma hugged her back, then gestured to the two women.  “This is Annit, [Wind Hunter], and Keri, [Primal Healer], my adventuring companions.”

“Welcome, both of you,” she said, studying them with interest.  If they’d gotten both Blue’s and Shayma’s approval there had to be something unusual about them.  If nothing else, Keri would be useful in the very near future, though she still wasn’t sure what “Primal” meant.

“Your Majesty.”  Both of them offered low bows, dressed as they were in adventuring clothes.  Annit was clearly from the southern part of the continent, sun-weathered and raven-haired, with the strong aquiline features of the bloodlines from thereabouts.  Keri, on the other hand, was classically Nivirese; short, blonde, pale enough to glow, and a smile full of pointed teeth. Neither of them were likely to be her subjects, but that wasn’t something to worry about under the circumstances.

“They’re good people.”  Shayma said cheerfully. “But Blue keeps reminding me we’ve got an army coming and wants to coordinate with you.”

“Yes, come upstairs, all of you.  The fourth-tiers should hear this, too.”

Cheya brought up the rear, ghost-like, and Iniri felt a little pity for Shayma’s friends.  They were clearly overwhelmed by the levels and the royalty but there wasn’t any time to let them adjust.

The fourth-tiers waiting in the upstairs room all knew Shayma, and Yamal, the old goat, eyed the other two women with interest, but they waited for Iniri to explain.  At the very least, they were curious what Blue had to say.

“So, um, here’s the army.”  Shayma gestured, and [Illusion] magic spun an image on the wall.  A huge mass of goblins and moils, banners of mercenary companies, and figures of higher-tiers or elites hovering in the air.  “That’s six thousand goblins in groups of five hundred, and ten moils per group,” she said, saving them the effort of estimating the numbers.  Or rather, Blue had.

“That definitely is an army,” Liril said, sounding a bit surprised.  “Where’d he get all those forces?”

“You’ve never fought the mage-kings before,” Iniri told him.  “Think about it. They control dungeons.”

“...ah.”

“So let me out and I’ll blow them away!”  The Hurricane eyed the illusion.

“Blue says he can take care of the goblins and moils,” Shayma told them.  “None of them are over level fifteen. But the mercenaries are higher level and there are some elites.”  She stopped for a moment, then waved a hand and changed the illusion. “Actually Blue is hoping you can do something about these guys.”

Now it showed a small group of people - or more likely, elite monsters - traveling through what seemed like solid rock.  A floating child, a massive grey man who was gesturing as stone flowed around them like water, someone with a beaked mask, two people in heavy armor, and a long-limbed, stick-thin figure draped in cloth.  “Avatar of Vok, Stonecaller, Ironbeak, Paladins of Vok, Barktearer.” She named off the classes. “They’re all between seventy and seventy-five, and it looks like they’re going to break into the eastern farming chamber in maybe ten minutes?”

“Sounds like we’re up.”  Yamal stood, the sword on his back flying out of its sheath and cuddling up to Yamal’s side like a jealous lover.  “That many elite monsters, it might actually be a fight.”

“Wait, those are monsters?”  Shayma blinked.

“Only the mercs are human,” Iniri told her.  “Cheya, evacuate the eastern farming chamber now.  Yamal, Liril, Hurricane -”

“It’s The Hurricane!”

“- take care of it, please?”

“Absolutely,” Liril said as Shayma dropped the illusion.  “Time to earn our pay.”

“We’re getting paid for this?”

“Blue will pay you,” Shayma said abruptly.  “He has something for each of you.”

Iniri raised her eyebrows.  She wasn’t sure what Blue had in mind that fourth-tiers would actually care about, but it was probably best not to underestimate a Power.

With a black flash, Shayma produced three glowing gems, tossing one to each of the fourth tiers.

“What is...fucking what?”  The Hurricane swore as she caught hers, the color changing from mere gray to a driving storm, lightning flickering deep within.  Liril’s went from ordinary red to deep purple fire, and Yamal’s shone an adamant gold.

“They’re Primal Sources,” she explained.

“Primal Sources are really great!” The [Primal Healer] put in.  “Mine let me evolve my Class!”

“I have never felt one quite like...this.” Liril admitted, peering down at it as his flames, slow and viscous, roiled around his feet. 

“This...actually helps stamina skills?”  Yamal gaped. “What.”

“I’m glad you like your presents, but you’ve got about five minutes.” Shayma reminded them, though she was grinning ear to ear.  “Shall Blue just teleport you to where they’re going to enter?”

“Certainly.”  Liril recovered his aplomb, stowing the Source gem in his robe.  “Let us be off.”

“Hey, wait!  Why is mine the smallest of the three?”  The Hurricane demanded before the fourth-tiers vanished.

“Because -” Shayma started to answer the question, then laughed.  “Anyway, the mercenaries are staying out of Blue’s range, some of them are flying...once he takes care of the army, maybe the other Classers can manage them?  Unless the fourth-tiers are done by then…” 

“Certainly.  Cheya, stage the third-tier Classers, groups first, fill in with any solos, with second- tiers as support.  The Flame Knights are aerial so make sure everyone has at least one person who can raise an overhead shield, and the Earth Corps needs other earth-Affinity users to block them.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”  Cheya’s shadow-clone bowed.

“I’m curious as to how Blue intends to take care of the army, though.”

“Oh, um.”  Shayma waved her hand and brought the illusion up again.  The moils were heading their respective groups, tearing down any trees or underbrush that would impede the march of the goblins with brute strength.  By themselves, they weren’t particularly imposing, but supported by hundreds of bow- and spear-wielding goblins, they weren’t something any Classer would want to deal with.

“You’re a lot better at this than I remember,” Iniri said.  Shayma had been gone several weeks, true, but this sort of improvement?

“I got seventeen levels all at once.  I’m still riding the high,” she confessed to Iniri.  “So Blue’s opening a bunch of entrances to split up the forces, and when they get deep enough in he’s going to try and cut them off from the mercenaries.”

“And he can handle thousands of them?”

Shayma cocked her head, ears flicking backward and then forward again.  “Blue says the hardest part will be disposing of the corpses.”

Iniri felt a chill.  She was entirely certain Blue wasn’t joking, and somehow could annihilate that army.  Dungeons were deadly, but mostly on an individual basis. Eradicating whole armies, even if they were in the level-20 range, was something else.

“He says he doesn’t get why they’d bother sending them inside the dungeon though.”  Shayma grinned. “Blue, most dungeons aren’t like you. They change slowly, and any traps would be triggered and be done with for a long time.”

“Besides, the mage-kings have their monster breeding and living areas inside,” Iniri said.  “I imagine this army is meant to destroy those while the elites assault something that must be defended.”

Shayma’s ears continued to twitch, and she nodded at intervals, apparently listening to Blue while the army advanced.  Then the ground trembled.

“The elites broke through,” Shayma reported worriedly, replacing the view of the army with a view of the farming chamber.  There was hole in the wall there, cutting across some of the terraces made for the rice and loosing muddy water inward toward the central chamber.  Already, ragged chunks of earth were hurtling through the air where The Hurricane’s wind magic caught them.

Her name wasn’t just for show.  She hovered at the center of a vortex, the wind picking up debris and hurling it through the air to suppress aerial magics or attacks, while she swung her staff to send invisible blades down upon the Ironbeak.  It was clear that it was a monster, now, with great black wings contesting The Hurricane’s air magics and the beak parting in a way that almost split its face in two, its shrieks ripping at whatever earth the wind left untouched.  She kept ripping away the Stonecaller’s attacks, too, lassoing the rocky projectiles and hurling them back at the enemy group.

Below her, Liril was calmly burning away the attacks of both the Avatar of Vok and the Barktearer, his purple fires eating away their magic, while Yamal danced with the two Paladins, his sword flashing and flickering.  Sometimes he held the genuine article, other times he held ghostly, elemental versions while the physical sword flanked, beating down the defenses of the armored foes.

“Wow!” Shayma said staring, for all that she was the one creating the image. “They look like —”  Then she flinched as the Ironbeak flung up its hands and blasted The Hurricane backward so hard she slammed into the ceiling, great cracks cutting through the false sky.  She emerged from the debris a moment later, apparently unharmed but twice as angry, shouting something at the Ironbeak. Clouds gathered above her, lightning flickering before arcing outward.  It splashed against the Ironbeak, grounding through steel-tipped feathers and driving the monster to its knees.

The second and third bolt struck downward, one mixing with Liril’s flames and sending them twining and arcing among the other spellcasters, the other wrapping itself around Yamal’s sword.  With the extra power Yamal’s sword didn’t just leave dents in the heavy armor, it drove nails of lightning into them with each blow. Even outnumbered two to one, it seemed they had a handle on things.

“Never seen fourth-tiers fight before?”  Iniri smiled. No matter how they looked, any fourth-tier was probably fifty years old, if not older, with decades of experience in combat.  Even if they’d never fought together before they could cooperate almost flawlessly. Though, unfortunately, not quite well enough that they prevented any harm to the evacuees.  Some sort of shrapnel caught a number of them, and their companions dragged limp or limping bodies into the teleport.

“We need your healing at the teleport where you arrived.”  Iniri turned to the young [Primal Healer], who nodded, then remembered herself and bowed.

“Yes, Your Majesty!”

“I will accompany her, Your Majesty.”  The other woman, Annit, said, giving her own bow and then hurried after the healer, who had already darted away.

There was another tremor as Yamal broke free from the Paladins for a moment, swinging his blade in a long overhand toward the Avatar of Vok.  The Avatar’s shield flared, and a massive cut running from floor to ceiling appeared behind it, rock and dust billowing in the air and getting sucked into The Hurricane’s vortex.

There wasn’t going to be much left of the chamber by the time they were done with it.

The view vanished suddenly as Shayma let the illusion drop, grimacing.  “Amazing how fast that burns through my mana.”

“I can believe it.  That’s intense magic work.”  She was actually a little jealous.  Not that she had [Illusion] herself, but the complexity and detail was on the same level as her highest skills.

“Blue helped.  He had a lot of pointers about that kind of [Illusion] that makes it easier.  But still, it’s more…” She stopped, a half smile flickering across her face. “I suppose that works, too.”

Iniri could feel it herself.  She was full on all her stats, so the sudden regeneration surge didn’t do anything concrete, but it did relax some of the tension in her back and neck.  It seemed Blue had something that could strengthen the natural recovery rate, since it didn’t feel like external healing or rejuvenation did. Really, she should stop being surprised. 

The floor continued to shiver as evidence of the battle between elites, despite the farming chambers being, if Blue could be believed, completely disconnected from the living area.  Shayma made faces for a while, then waved her hand again. “Blue’s starting to take care of the goblins and moils.”

The illusion returned, but this time it somehow peeled back the land covering the tunnels Blue had set up, with only a vague shadow to show it was still there.  Since the only traps she’d ever seen dungeons make were things like spears or spiked balls and Blue clearly didn’t bother with those, she was quite curious as to what he’d use to prune thousands of enemies.  That was nearly the size of her total armed forces before the invasion, and large enough to simply roll over anything but large cities.

She wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but it became apparently quite quickly as the individuals in the columns trooping through the tunnels simply...fell apart, collapsing into bloody chunks.

“What is that?”

“Water.  But Blue says it’s probably best not to go into details.”

Iniri had never seen water magic do that, and it didn’t surprise her that Blue wanted to keep the technique to himself. Not that he’d been particularly forthcoming to begin with.  Though she was pretty sure she’d already seen the handiwork of that particular weapon in the finely-scored Bilib Ivory swords of a particularly stupid adventurer.

She'd half-expected to see more of this water magic, but after the vanguard in the tunnels had been eradicated Blue switched to something else entirely. Fountains of rock and earth appeared behind and among the troops remaining outside, hundreds and hundreds of them. The debris scythed down the goblins, though she couldn't tell how many were dead and how many were merely stunned. 

It didn’t much matter though, because in the next instant fire and smoke started to billow out from each point the rock had come from.  A few seconds later the entire woodland was in flames. From start to finish, it had gone from a massive army to a thirty-acre inferno in less than thirty seconds.  The supporting mercenaries didn’t even have time to react. She didn’t have time to react, barely able to figure out what was happening at each stage.

“Why didn’t he just burn them all to begin with?”

“Um, he says he just wanted to test everything to see how it worked.”

Iniri goggled.  All this was just...playing around?

“And he wanted them to be away from the earth and flame users.”  Shayma paused, looking at the devastation, her face pale. It was good to know she was just as daunted by what Blue had done.  “Also he asks if you can have the Classers take care of the mercenaries now? He can teleport them outside of the fire.”

She laughed, a trifle unsteadily.  “Not a problem. After seeing that, they’re ready to run.  Even fourth-tiers might have second thoughts. Cheya! Tell them they’re about to engage a badly demoralized enemy.  They’ll have fire at their backs but Blue will keep it off of them.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”  Cheya’s shadow-clone bowed as she conveyed the orders to the assembled Classers below.  Hopefully their morale was intact despite the occasional tremor from the fight between her fourth-tiers and the elites.  A few moments later, Shayma’s illusion showed several dozen Classers appear at the edge of the fire, immediately sallying forth against the shocked mercenaries.  Spells and weapons flew, and the Flame Knights and Earth Corps simply...broke.

The Classers pursued the scattered mercenaries, breaking into their native groups as they attacked the stragglers.  Most of them hadn’t really fought humans before, or she hoped not anyway, but a fleeing human wasn’t much different from a fleeing beast.  Some of the prey escaped, of course, but quite a few of them fell before the Classers starting to break off.

She’d experienced this sort of birds-eye view during flight or when scrying, but never during a battle.  Between various methods of [Warding] and the sheer amount of magic that flew during a serious clash, and the need for her to deploy her own [Shield of Tarnil] at the front lines, she’d always seen things firsthand.  ‘Always’ being twice ever, but that was still enough.  

There was something fundamentally different between killing monsters and killing human or demihuman beings. Even so, she felt no remorse whatsoever watching the Classers fell the mercenaries, one after the other, until only a few escaped the field.  Though the mercenary companies were famously amoral, taking the mage-king’s money - or however they were being compensated - was just too much. Those dungeons and the depletion they brought were a threat to everyone.

The [Illusion] went again with another tremor as Shayma grimaced.  “Blue’s complaining about the mess they’re making in the farming chamber,” she said.

“That’s what happens with fourth-tiers,” Iniri said, without any sympathy whatsoever.  It hadn’t taken that long to make the chamber.  It wouldn’t take any longer to repair, and it wasn’t like it was their fault Vok Nal’s elites had decided to go underground and break into Blue’s territory.  

Plus, if she even hinted she was responsible he’d probably want something more from her.  Not that she blamed him. If she were hosting refugees, she’d keep an eye on how to get the most out of the situation herself.

Shayma took a moment to recover while Cheya reported that the lower-tier Classers were on their way back with no injuries at all, which was far better than she had ever contemplated upon seeing the army.  So far the only casualties were the injured farmers, but the elites and fourth-tiers were still fighting. If the high-level monsters broke out, all the other victories would be for naught.

But she had faith in Yamal and Liril and The Hurricane.  High-level monsters were, so far as anyone could tell, bred high level, rather than reaching it through decades of experience.  They might have similar levels of power, but they didn’t have the technique or the practice of coordination.  Even given two-to-one odds she was sure they’d win, especially since there was no one else they needed to worry about in the abandoned chamber.

There was an earsplitting clap of thunder and Iniri looked outside, startled.  Lightning crawled around a hole in the far wall, which began to shut even as she watched.

“Yeeahh, The Hurricane just sort of...melted that Ironbeak fellow.”  Shayma cast the [Illusion] again, showing the farming area in even more shambles than before.  Half the room was scoured to bare rock, and the entry wound of the lightning strike they’d just seen was a glowing crater of spiderwebbed rock, scorched and smoking.

Vok Nal’s other monsters were frozen for an instant, shocked, and Yamal took the opportunity to bring his sword down in a massive two-handed strike.  There was an impression of something much larger than a single sword blade, a weapon a thousand times the size of the one in his hands, the weight pressing down on the two Paladins of Vok.  Then, suddenly, it smashed into the ground and the pair were rent asunder, showing that they were no more than golems, just layers and layers of strange metal.

The remaining elites tried to flee as the Stoneshaper pulled rock from the walls for a shield and passage both, but Blue hadn’t been idle.  Instead of the solid stone that had surrounded the habitat before, it was hard-packed dark ice, which didn’t yield to earth magic at all. Shayma laughed suddenly, ears flicking.  “At least I can appreciate it,” she said, clearly speaking to Blue. “No, I don’t think the timing would work,” she added.

It really was nice to see that Shayma got along well with Blue, even if she did look a bit of a loon just talking aloud to herself.  It did, at least, defuse the drama of the moment, as Liril’s flames suddenly surged and burned away the Avatar’s protections. Without the hundreds of layers of magical defenses, The Hurricane’s wind simply smashed him into paste against the newly-revealed ice.

The Barktearer was the next to fall, as Liril focused the full power of his flames on the thing, wind whipping the fire into a frenzy, and while it was occupied Yamal’s sword decapitated the Stoneshaper.  And then it was done.

All the elites were dead, though in exchange the entire farming chamber was wrecked.  She suspected Blue was actively holding it together to keep it from collapsing, considering the gouged holes and deep cracks in every surface.  Her fourth-tiers weren’t completely uninjured, either. Yamal was favoring a leg, Liril’s arm was still on fire which meant he was trying to purge some form of magical affliction, and The Hurricane’s clothes were torn and soaked with blood from hundreds of tiny cuts.

Which didn’t look bad, but given how nightmarishly robust and regenerative fourth-tiers were it meant they were injuries that would have killed her ten times over, and probably put a significant dent in their health pools.  Even their new [Primal Healer] would probably have difficulty fixing them up. Though maybe Blue’s regeneration room would help.

“I’m going to go meet them,” Iniri declared.  “The Classers ought to be getting back at the same time and they all deserve recognition.”  She looked to Shayma. “Does Blue have anything he wants to say to them?”

Her ears swiveled back and forth.  “He says he’s not much for speeches but he does have something to say.”

“Oh?”  Despite how chatty Blue apparently was with Shayma, he didn’t seem to have much interest in talking with other people aside from what was necessary for business.  Though given what just happened, it might well simply be business that he wanted to discuss.

“He says he wants to surprise you,” Shayma told her with a wry smile.  The smile meant it was nothing bad, at least, but Iniri was mistrustful of surprises.  Especially if they came from something as powerful as Blue.  Even if Shayma wasn’t upset by whatever the surprise was, it didn’t mean it wouldn’t complicate things from Iniri’s perspective as a ruler.

She had no doubt a number of people would be happy to permanently settle in this town with its perfect weather and teleports and indoor plumbing, and in the farming chambers, with their tailor-made, fast-growing fields.  But this wasn’t her territory, for all that Blue was technically occupying her land, and if her subjects wanted to settle here permanently they wouldn’t really be her subjects anymore.  There was no doubt that Blue would be around for a long time to come, and while his help was vital now, at some point she’d have to figure out how to accommodate his presence without toppling her kingdom.

“Very well then, let’s go.”  Iniri proceeded back down the stairs, Cheya’s physical body as well as two of her guard flanked her as she stepped out of the door.  Since she’d had Blue move the teleportation circles it was actually a little bit of a walk to where the returning Classers were appearing.  A pleasant stroll, really, despite the fact that the cobbled streets were crowded with lower-level evacuees from the farming chambers. She made sure to greet and reassure them, spreading the news that an attack from Vok Nal had been repelled.  In less than half an hour, at that.

It had taken more time for the enemy to advance than it had for them to be destroyed.

Cheers and shouting followed her, a kind of happiness that she hadn’t seen since before the invasion.  Actual hope, and a bit of bloodthirst, for paying back what the mage-kings had inflicted on them. Though most of the work had been done by Blue and three fourth-tiers, two of which weren’t even her subjects.  Still, a victory was a victory, and something to be seized on.

By the time she reached the teleport circles, Keri was attending to The Hurricane’s still-oozing wounds, Yamal was chatting with some of the third-tiers, and Liril was sullenly ignoring everyone.  One of the new-arrival Classers, a woman who looked like a kindly grandmother but had a maul strapped to her back, noticed the entourage first and knelt. “Your Majesty,” she said, the words rippling outward as everyone followed suit.  Everyone but The Hurricane and Liril, but they at least were polite enough to incline their heads.

“My Classers,” she said, watching them and feeling the mood.  “You may rise.” They got to their feet in silence, and once they were all standing again she gave them a small, satisfied smile.  “How does it feel to make the enemy bleed?”

That got a roar.

“They caught us by surprise when they invaded, and we’ve been on the back foot for years.  But today, we annihilated an entire army sent against us. This is only the start.” Another roar.  “From here we go after Vok Nal. We take back our villages, our cities. We destroy the monsters that have infested our homes and we restore our country!  Tarnil lives!”

This time the cheer was earthshaking.

“But that’s for later.  For now, rest. Regroup.  Eat and drink. Consider that nobody died.  We have our fourth-tiers to thank for that.  Yamal, Sovereign of the Thousand-Blessed Blade.  Liril, Theurge of Purifying Flame. And The Hurricane.”  The two men bowed when she named them. The Hurricane pumped her fist in the air.  “And of course, we also have our host. Blue was kind enough to eliminate the chaff by himself.”

There was more cheering, though different in tone, and mostly directed at Shayma.  Most people couldn’t really come to grips with the immense, faceless, unknowably powerful entity that was Blue, so instead they considered Shayma to be effectively him.  So the thing that could end them all in an instant was thought of as a cheerful, smiling fox-girl. People were not nearly as careful of Blue as they ought to be.

Shayma smiled and waved at the assembled Classers.  “Blue has something to say too!” She shouted, not having the experience to command silence with a gesture.  The voices lowered to dull muttering and she continued. “Vok Nal didn’t just attack you. He attacked Blue.  So Blue is going to help take back Meil, crush the dungeon there, and destroy Vok Nal.”

There was a moment of silence, then another, louder commotion.  Iniri was taken aback. She’d sounded him out about what he could do on that very topic earlier, and he had not been willing.  They’d talked around the point, since she didn’t want to force either of them to commit to anything, but it hadn’t sounded like he was even able to extend himself that far.

Clearly, the attack had changed his mind.  She wondered if it’d actually made him angry.  Shayma’s emotions weren’t Blue’s, she knew that, but it was difficult to imagine him getting truly enraged.  But if he was, there was no better target than Vok Nal.

“He’s already started a tunnel to the city,” Shayma added, speaking to Iniri.  “It should be done in a few days.”

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