The fortresses felt like four enormous bruises on Tarnil, and the monsters felt like ants. The sensations [Queen’s Insight] gave her were less than pleasant, but it meant she knew exactly what was going on, and even could tell when some major magical working was about to go off. She could even tell where it was aimed, so she was confident she would be able to block anything significant that Vok Lim would send her way.
Already she could feel the monsters that Vok Lim had dropped going away as Blue threw them into the pit for her Classers to kill. She wasn’t sure how much benefit they’d get from it, but it wouldn’t hurt and provided some backup to Blue’s plans. After feeling the shaking from his volcanic Climates, she was pretty sure he could deal with an army if he really wanted to, but doing it without melting half of Tarnil was another story.
Blue had his portion of the work well in hand, so she focused on her own defense. Even with [Queen’s Insight] she had a minor divination running constantly, keeping track of Vok Lim’s island as it drew closer. It was visible at that point, a massive shadowed bulk on the horizon, glowing with layers upon layers of magic. Some of it was dungeon magic, but a good chunk of it was the work of mages. Or a mage-king, with whatever benefits they got from controlling their dungeons. After seeing what Blue could do for her as a Companion, she was sure that Vok Lim had similar benefits, if not greater ones.
Suddenly her insides twisted as flames rose across hundreds of miles of Tarnil, [Queen’s Insight] screaming at her about unthinkable devastation.
“Blue?” She called, staring out at the island. “What’s going on?”
「Blue says that the mage-kings are trying to burn down Tarnil.」 Shayma told her over their [Companion Concord], and Iniri shuddered. 「He’s going to fix it with Conservatory. Mom and Dad and I are going to go poke them in the eye while you take care of Vok Lim.」
「Be careful.」 Iniri sent back. She had to restrain herself from asking Blue to use the [Contained Stars], no matter how distressing things were. They only had two of them, and while Blue was certain they’d be powerful nobody knew exactly how powerful, and it’d be for the best if they could avoid using them. The idea was to bleed out the mage-kings, chip away at them and their magical defenses until Blue could take them out with more mundane attacks, or Shayma could get in to take over their cores. Even with all of Shayma’s Skills, those things were fortresses and diamond-hard concentrations of magic, not something she could simply stroll into like she had with Vok Nal’s core.
Blue’s change with the Conservatory climate was immediately apparent. Instead of someone kicking her in the ribs, it was like someone kicking a pillow she was holding. She could still feel it, but it muffled the blow and prevented any actual injury. She narrowed her eyes at Vok Lim’s island, feeling Blue peeling off hundreds of monsters at a time. It drifted closer, then closer still, and she gave the nod to the rest of the ritual circle.
While she led the ritual circle thanks to her Skill, it wasn’t her expertise that was being used. The ritual circle let her tap into and, to a small extent, combine the Skills and knowledge of everyone involved as they contributed to it. She assessed the outer wards and defenses woven about island, protecting it from heat and cold, from impacts, from direct magical assaults, from anyone other than monsters and mage-kings. It even swatted insects out of the way as the massive thing lumbered through the air.
Between using the palace as a projector and [Queen’s Insight], it was no issue to reach out a few miles and touch the island. The talents and Skills of those in the ritual circle sprang into action, starting to unwind the wards that protected it. Different Affinities flashed out to grab, move, and cut the various mana constructs, and while her primary contribution was light Affinity, she did shove stellar Affinity into the circle too. Even if nobody but her could use it directly, it gathered up and harmonized so many other Affinities that it was a more potent vehicle than any of its component Affinities alone.
The wards began to fray, disintegrating as her circle unwove the anchors keeping them together. While breaking the wards with brute force meant that they merely had to be refreshed with mana to become active again, the unweaving removed the basis for the wards themselves. Vok Lim would have to make them from scratch if he didn’t stop them.
He tried, of course.
The sheer amount of magical power blasting out of the center of the island was breathtaking, even after seeing what Blue could do. It ripped at the magic of the Circle, but Iniri flung up [Shield of Tarnil] to deflect the attack. It was a strain to project that far, and not a strain she could lean on Blue’s magic to fix, but it was enough to shelter their efforts from Vok Lim. For a few minutes, at least.
Those few minutes were all that were necessary to unravel two of the major anchor points for the outer wards. She was actually surprised that it was even that easy, considering the power she’d seen mage-kings wield, but Blue’s mana might be weakening them. The inner wards were beyond them, laced into the very stuff of the island as they were. Anyone that wasn’t a fifth-tier mage would need to be right up near them to start picking them apart. But those wards didn’t cover every square inch of the massive island, just the inner citadel, leaving a goodly amount of rock open to attack.
With a hole opened in the defenses, the circle switched from finesse to force. For something like this Iniri needed line of sight to the Fortress, else she’d risk burning through walls or people who might be in the way, but that’s why they’d put the circle together on the upper story of the Palace. Attack Skills were invoked, looped through the circle, and passed to her to hurl at the island. Bolts of fire, earth-pulverizing shocks, steel-hard ice, and her own burning light flew across the gap to hammer the floating island.
Vok Lim answered with his own magic, forcing her to throw up a [Shield of Tarnil] large enough to cover all of Meil. The massive blast of kinetic force bounced off the shield, hammered into the lake and drove a furrow into the lakebed, sending a massive plume into the air. The displaced water swamped the lakeshore, incidentally extinguishing not a few fires, and crashed against Iniri’s shield with almost as much force as the initial attack.
He didn’t stop there. Needle-pointed twists of space clawed at the [Shield of Tarnil] she had protecting them, trying to reach past it and get at the fragile people inside. Bolts of pure Depletion lashed out from the center citadel, but dissolved before they could even reach her defenses. A great silver ball, half the size of the entire lake, appeared above Meil and dropped downward. She wasn’t sure what it was, but when it hit her Shield it actually hurt, and she grunted as she leaned on Blue for more mana as she reinforced her Skill. Suddenly the pressure eased, the last hazy corners of the Skill aligning to her will, and she knew she’d finally maximized her Lineage. Just in time too, considering how much power was coming her way.
The thing rang like an enormous bell, then shattered, sending bits and pieces tearing through brush and trees around the lake. Everything they touched puffed into acrid smoke, and any pieces that hit water actually exploded in a string of sharp detonations. Iniri had no idea what that was, but the thought of dropping that on an inhabited city was beyond horrifying.
Blue’s attention suddenly was on her, a burst of amusement before it swept over to the island, which was entirely at odds with the devastation – except that he had a better idea of what was going on than she did, even with [Queen’s Insight]. She took it to mean that whatever else was going on, she was doing well.
She flexed [Shield of Tarnil] outward and broke the remainder of the strange silver stuff, returning it to its component mana before returning fire. The sheer scale of the artillery spells that Vok Lim was able to summon was stupefying, and even with Blue’s help she couldn’t match it, but she could defend against it. It wasn’t easy, and she wasn’t doing it alone, but it was possible. She could do it. Despite everything the mage-kings had done so far, she hadn’t bent, hadn’t broken, and she wasn’t going to now. No, she was going to fight back.
There was a momentary pause after she destroyed that attack, and then the exchange of fire resumed. Most of his were just brute force, and [Blue’s Armament of Light] wasn’t much better, but some of her circle had more finesse. One of them had a Skill that chewed rock into sand, spreading out and digging deeper into the fortress, so Iniri threw extra mana into that one, pulling from Blue to give it a hefty punch. Vok Lim’s frantic response to that, thrashing it with different types of Affinity, had her laughing. She could practically feel his frustration even with the island being miles away.
The feeling of oppressive weight from the mage-king invasion lifted as she sparred with Vok Lim over the distance. It didn’t feel like a fluke or like luck anymore, it felt like a challenge she could actually meet. Yet another attack boomed off her [Shield of Tarnil], deflected wind Affinity driving away the last lingering clouds, and the sun shone down on the lake and Meil. The city was completely intact and unharmed despite Vok Lim’s best efforts, and the day was bright.
The sight of it all merged with the energies running through her, a feeling that grew from intuition to certainty. An understanding that the bright, hopeful day was what she wanted for Tarnil, that she didn’t want to simply protect it but build it into something greater. The power suddenly surged, rising up through her core to break through the boundaries of her Skills, stellar Affinity blazing out from her as her Class was shattered and remade. She’d broken through to the fourth Tier.
[Blue’s Armament of Light] was suddenly something far more powerful and brilliant, pouring from her in a diamond-sharp, blazing lance of energy. It slammed into the side of the island that had already been ravaged by the circle’s Skills and punched through into the interior in a matter of moments. She could feel it bounce off the deeper wards, splintering into deadly sprays of light that bored through monster and rock alike before spraying out the back of the island.
Even as the rock around her beam was melting, magic built deep inside the island and then the entire thing was elsewhere, teleported back at least thirty miles and up at least one as Vok Lim pulled out of range. Iniri stopped the attack, tired but strangely energized, feeling a buzzing deep in her bones as she stared out at the black speck. They’d made him retreat, mere mortals outclassing a mage-king.