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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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WARNING: This week's chapter is an extreme cliff.  Considering that it is a full week between releases, some of you may wish to wait until next week to read these chapters and next week's together.  Also a reminder, this is the end of the month, so you will not get your money's worth if you buy Patreon.

This warning brought to you by InadvisablyCompelled's Patrons.

Shayma made sure to keep a firm grip on her temper as she appeared just outside the gates of the Anell compound, but couldn’t resist accompanying her appearance with a lightning-brilliant blast of blue. Harmless, but it certainly drew all eyes to her. She kept some of the radiance around her as she strode forward, to the consternation of the guards posted there.

“Who are⁠—” One of them started, before she silenced him by a simple effort of will. While she was still perfecting her domain Skill, it was easy enough to ensure she was the only person who could speak. Any other sounds didn’t exist. While she could have done more, the guard was only second-tier and wasn’t even an actual Anell, and didn’t deserve her wrath.

The gates, on the other hand, were a fine target. Though she could have simply stepped straight through them by rendering them temporarily intangible with her Domain, she didn’t want to. Instead she conjured up illusory flame: not just normal fire, but the blue-glowing plasma prominences of the [Contained Stars]. The flames were illusions, but the heat was enough to melt the very real gate, rendering it to a molten puddle in a matter of moments. She stepped through the remains of gold and steel and jade and walked into the courtyard, casting a cold eye over the third-tiers gathered there.

“I am Shayma Ell, Voice of the Power Blue,” she said, amplifying her voice until it rang from walls. “I call upon the heads of the Anell Family to come forth!”

“That’s one hell of an entrance,” Blue whispered in her ear, enjoying the show.

Fortunately, the Anell estate guards were well disciplined enough, or overawed enough, not to try and attack her. That would have ended badly for them, and Shayma didn’t have anything in particular against them to begin with. It was the Anells, the ones who had reduced most of her family to such a sorry state, that she was interested in.

“Looks like Molen Anell is coming out to meet you. Level 70 [Flowing Banner Blademaster].” Shayma just nodded. Even her mother used Anell style bladeplay, so of course it was no surprise that the Anells themselves leaned toward it. She waited patiently as the main doors opened, and Molen started down the long steps that led from the heart of the Anell compound to the courtyard.

Mostly patiently. Molen’s expression seemed to be set in an expression of permanent smugness, which made her want to wipe it off his face. She actually wondered briefly if Blue’s ANATHEMA was affecting her, but it didn’t really matter. Shayma had more than enough reasons to dislike the Anells.

“Voice Shayma Ell,” Molen said with an insincere smile. “What can the Anell family do for you and Blue?”

“You say that as if you haven’t already attacked Blue, as well as the land he protects.” Shayma said coldly. “There is no diplomacy to be had here.” She had the satisfaction of seeing his expression stiffen before he regained control.

“Then why have you come?” He came to a halt several feet away, only a few paces in front of the guards but still well within Shayma’s Domain. “Surely not simply to destroy our wards.”

“I have come to dictate terms.” Shayma said bluntly. “Blue merely had to get your attention first.”

“You certainly have it,” Molen replied. “Though as to terms—”

“I am not interested in hearing any pleas or excuses.”

“Of course, of course,” Molen said hastily. “But perhaps we can discuss this in a private setting.”

“I don’t hear them planning to ambush you or anything, but be careful anyway.” Blue muttered to her.

“Very well,” Shayma said.

“Please, come with me.” Molen gestured for the guards to give them room, but Shayma kept herself displaced from where she appeared to be as she mounted the steps side by side with the Anell. Her nerves were on edge, her Domain stretched to the limit to make sure there was no planned ambush or other surprise just out of sight.

If it weren’t for the fact that she needed to get the location of the rest of the Ells out of them, she wouldn’t have agreed to a private meeting, but she doubted they’d be interested in making that discussion public. The situation was a little delicate, though of course she didn’t want Molen or any of the others to know that. If they realized the amount of leverage they actually had by way of the remaining Ell family, things could get very bad very quickly.

“In a hostage situation, nobody wins,” Blue said, clearly thinking along the same lines. She flicked her tail and kept following Molen, finding that most of the staff and soldiers had been cleared out of their path. “Hah!” Blue said. “I know where you’re going. They sit out on this balcony and talk all the time.”

Shayma was never completely certain how Blue knew the things he did, but it was a great help. When two other high-level Anells came into her Domain, she knew exactly who they were. She had her illusion follow Molen out onto the balcony and frown at Risu and Toreq while she waited on the other side of the wall and frowned at them from there.

“Voice Shayma,” Molen said. “Allow me to introduce Risu and Toreq Anell⁠—”

“I know who they are,” she interrupted. “Just as I know who sent the orders for Girul Ell to attack Nivir, and I assume also sent the Ell that attacked Iniri. Let us not pretend that we are not at odds.” Her illusion looked at the three Anells, and she decided to just skip straight to what she wanted. “I am here for two reasons. The first is to free the Ells from the Anell family. The second is to make sure there will be no further attacks on Blue by you, directly or indirectly.”

Free them?” Risu frowned. “They’re hardly enslaved, they’re a cadet branch of the Anells. They’re family.”

Shayma had to choke down the urge to throttle the woman. It wasn’t just how absurd the reply was, it was the very idea of being related to someone like Risu. She had the urge to spit from the taste that concept left in her mouth, but instead simply grit her teeth and had her illusion glare at Risu.

“Your ideas on how to treat family leave something to be desired.” Shayma’s illusory self was cold and contemptuous, no matter how much she was seething. “My demands can hardly be deflected with words, Risu. You merely need to tell me that you will comply.”

“You say that as if we are simply tyrants that can order everyone about as we please,” Toreq said cautiously. “This is our city, true enough, but even a king or a queen would be hesitant about rounding up everyone of a particular bloodline.”

“I assume you are wasting time in hopes that one of your third-tier void Affinity guards will arrive,” Shayma said. “They won’t. I have already taken them back to Orn, and most of them were glad to go. All the Ells stationed at the harbor are gone. The only Ells I have yet to rescue are those who do not have void Affinity.” She kept a close watch on the expression of the three Anells as she spoke, but they didn’t betray any useful expression at all.

“I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” Risu told her. “We can’t give you something we don’t have.”

“My patience is not infinite,” Shayma said, and invoked Blue’s Presence. She had avoided outright threats because she didn’t want to run the risk of somehow endangering her extended family, but it was obvious the Anells didn’t realize the position they were in. It seemed idiotic to her, but then, she hadn’t shown off anything really threatening. They might simply think she was at the third tier and that was it.

Every time she used his Presence she felt like she had some idea of what it was like to be a Power. Hints and whispers of the things that made Blue what he was, the ideas and abilities that lay behind his friendly personality. Normally it flattened and suppressed people, but for a moment she had forgotten that the Anells were his ANATHEMA.

Risu gurgled and her eyes rolled back in her head as she collapsed outright. Molen made a spasmodic movement as if to grasp the sword at his hip, but none of his muscles were working right and he unbalanced himself to crumple to the ground. Only Toreq remained conscious, fingers white where he gripped his notebook. Though she hadn’t intended the effects to be so intense, Shayma took a certain satisfaction in their misery before she stopped channeling his Presence.

“You will tell me where the other Ells are,” she demanded of Toreq, keeping her illusion’s voice crisp and clear. Shayma didn’t follow it with a threat or bluster. There would be no point. Toreq’s eyes flickered, finally giving something away as he glanced at Risu for a moment.

She shifted to Scalemind form, reaching out with her mental senses to probe the unconscious fox-kin’s mind, but found the Anell mind-mage had been there before her. Risu’s own mana was strong enough that Shayma would have to use serious attacks rather than being able to simply pull information from Risu’s head, and she was far from confident in her ability to do any of that considering the woman’s level. With the additional mind magic protections, somewhere between wards and visualizations, Shayma was almost certain that Risu’s mind would crumble before Shayma could get anything from it. That was assuming that she didn’t trip something nasty buried in the mind-magic defenses first.

Without waiting for whatever non-answer Toreq was prepared to give, she had her illusion haul Risu upright. Without Blue’s Presence, that was enough to wake her up, her eyes snapping open as she pulled back from Shayma. She even made an aborted gesture with the kiseru before her mind caught up, which made Shayma wonder exactly what her Class and Skills were. The long pipe was clearly a weapon.

“What was that?” Risu asked hoarsely.

“Tell me where you have put the rest of the Ells,” Shayma said, ignoring the question. Behind her, Molen stirred, but she ignored him. Unless he attacked her, he wasn’t worth spending more time on. Risu’s eyes flicked to look at Toreq, the two of them communicating silently for a moment by the looks in their eyes and the expression on their faces.

“There is a small compound north of Port Anell. You will have to tell the guards that you’re a friend of Taeli, since they won’t know you.” Risu spoke reluctantly, but she spoke.

“Where, exactly, is this compound?”

Risu gave more precise directions, but it was Blue who spotted it from his position high up in the sky. It really didn’t look particularly special, just like another one of the many walled estates scattered outside the city proper. According to him, the only peculiarity was the lightness of traffic to and from the estate, which didn’t really stand out to begin with.

“Good,” Shayma said, looking at the three Anells. “I will go there, and I will take them home. After what you have done, Orn does not welcome you. I will expect you to send us the remaining members of the Ell family as you can contact them, and if you do we will consider the matter closed.” Part of her wanted to punish them a lot more than that, but there was no way that she could go around finding every single agent that the Anells had scattered around the continent. If she just killed the Anells, whoever was left probably wouldn’t be too cooperative. Assuming they even could perform the task.

“Of course,” Toreq said. Despite her display of power, none of the three were servile, but at least they weren’t trying to pretend they didn’t know what was going on anymore. She found it hard to believe they had been so disingenuous to begin with, but most kingdoms would be vulnerable to that sort of diplomatic tactic.

“Good.” She didn’t bother asking them to sign or swear anything. It wasn’t that kind of agreement. With that, she simply vanished from the Anell estate, heading toward the Ell compound with [Wake of the Phantasmal]. Hopefully she’d never have to see the Anells again.

It didn’t take her long to emerge in front of the estate. From a closer perspective it was obvious that it was heavily warded, more visually than in terms of direct protection. The exterior wards projected the image of a completely uninteresting and generic compound, though there was a heavy line that was tuned specifically to Ells, as she found out when she tried to push through.

Her Domain showed her the real reason for the wards, as from the other side they projected a completely different surroundings than the Port Anell area. The wards made it look like the estate was set deep in the mountains, somewhere far away from civilization. It was no wonder her family had no idea where it was when the compound was within sight of a place as instantly recognizable as the port.

There was enough potency in whatever was buried under the ground to make it an issue for any first or second tiers to cross the line, but she simply borrowed some mana from Blue and punched straight through, breaking the ward-line and opening a hole in it the width of the road. That opened a gap that let the first-tier teenager guarding the entrance, some hundred feet or so further in, see the truth as she strolled up to him. Though guarding was a strong term for putting someone so young and low in level in charge of the gate.

“Talen Ell, Level 12 [Fighter],” Blue informed her. “Just a kid.” Shayma nodded. It was clear that they didn’t really have any worries about someone unwanted walking in. The ward-line took care of that.

“Identify yourself!” Talen called out with admirable gravity as she came closer.

“My name is Shayma Ell,” she said, smiling at him. “I’m a friend of Taeli.”

“Um.” Talen frowned, obviously uncertain. “You don’t have a badge or anything?”

“I’m afraid not,” she said, though inwardly she was ready to go back and take her frustration out on Risu. If there was supposed to be a badge, she should have been given a badge.

“Let me get Taeli then. Wait here!” Talen ran off into the estate, shouting for Taeli. Shayma shook her head at him leaving the gate unguarded, but she did wait outside. No need to get the kid in trouble. It wasn’t long before Talen returned with a matronly woman in tow, greying but still spry.

“Oh damn. Taeli’s a level 78 [Sabrelord of the Persistent Void].” Shayma could tell she was a fourth-tier by the general feel of things, but an actual fourth-tier void Affinity class was terrifying. Though Taeli didn’t look upset or anxious, merely curious as she studied Shayma.

“You’re really an Ell?” Taeli asked, looking her over. “I haven’t seen you before, and I should have. Who are your parents?”

“My mother is Sienne Ell,” Shayma said, and Taeli’s eyes widened.

“Then you’ve come back to join us? Is she with you?” Taeli’s eager question made Shayma blink.

“No…” Shayma said slowly, eyeing Taeli cautiously. It made sense that a fourth-tier void Affinity would have to be loyal, because nobody could really force her to do anything. She would definitely have to take Risu to task for not being more forthcoming, but in the meantime she had a job to do. “I’m actually here for the opposite reason. To have you join us.”

“Us join you?” Taeli look confused, ears swiveling as she cocked her head at Shayma. “How do you mean?”

“I am the Voice for Blue, a Power in Orn, and⁠—” She stopped as Taeli held up her hand.

“This sounds complicated. Why don’t we discuss it somewhere other than the front gate?”

“I would appreciate it.” Shayma was actually thrilled, because she could already tell that Taeli would be a problem. But once she had more people in her Domain, she could talk to someone else. Someone who wasn’t of the opinion that Ells should come back to the Anell fold once they’d run away.

“Come on, kid,” Taeli said, and it took a moment for Shayma to realize the woman meant her and not Talen. She beckoned him to follow anyway. It wouldn’t do to potentially miss him simply because he was out at the gate. The teen looked conflicted, but eventually trailed after them.

She stretched her Domain as they neared the center of the estate, finding a score of women, two dozen children, and six men of various ages scattered throughout. There were probably more scattered throughout the grounds, but that more than doubled the amount of family members she’d found already. Even as she followed Taeli into a front room, Shayma shifted to Scalemind form to scan who she could. After a moment she had one illusion continue after Taeli while another appeared in front of a middle-aged woman who was knitting on the floor above.

“Hello, Enni” she said, listening to Blue’s whispering about her name and class, and the poor woman jumped.

“Who?” She spluttered. “What?”

“My name is Shayma Ell,” she told Enni, letting just a hint of Blue’s Presence breeze through the room. “I represent the Power known as Blue.” She smiled at Enni, surreptitiously skimming some of Enni’s surface attitudes. “Would you like to leave this place?” Enni blinked, all kinds of thoughts racing through her mind, too fast for Shayma to really catch. Then she glanced around, trying to discern where Taeli was.

“I’m keeping Taeli busy,” Shayma assured her. “I’ve already transported a number of us to safety. Everyone at the docks and the palace. Risu has even agreed to send me those who are out at the moment, but I’d rather get everyone to safety before relying on her word.” It was better for everyone if she took the Ells and got out before the Anells recovered from the shock and did something stupid.

“Oh.” Enni said, clutching her knitting. “The children. I mean.” She stopped for a moment. “Take them first, I don’t want them to grow up here.”

“I’ll get everyone out,” Shayma assured her. “Blue, if you would?”

“On it,” Blue said, using the scythe-arm she had placed against the wall to open a portal to the Ell Compound back in the Caldera. Ennit stared, standing up from her chair to take a closer look at the portal and poking at it with one of her knitting needles. She looked at Shayma again.

“Liani, my sister, she’s over at the Anell Manor—”

“She’s already on the other side,” Shayma assured Enni. “I don’t want to leave anyone here. You’re my family, and it’s pretty obvious the Anells aren’t. Not anymore.”

“I’ll start getting people together,” Enni said.

“Just keep it quiet,” Shayma cautioned her.

“I could just teleport everyone,” Blue offered, but Shayma shook her head. Her real, Scalemind head, which was so large that the process was fairly ponderous.

“We’re not in that much of a hurry now, and it’ll be easier to deal with the children if they can see what’s going on.” Besides, Taeli would be an issue if it seemed like Shayma was kidnapping people.

“So are you related to that giant floating thing?” Taeli asked, unaware of Shayma’s simultaneous conversation with Enni.

“That is Blue’s Fortress,” Shayma admitted. With the wards down, the Fortress was quite visible. “House Anell has been acting against Blue’s interests for some time, so he thought he’d show his disapproval.” Blue chuckled at her phrasing. Taeli pursed her lips, looking disapproving.

“I understand House Anell has wide-ranging interests and sometimes there are conflicts, but I don’t like people bringing that sort of thing where it can threaten my family,” she told Shayma.

“House Anell was threatening mine,” Shayma told her, tracking people through her domain as Enni went and found some other adults, a few of whom went to outlying buildings. Others went to find the children. “Besides, I wouldn’t call House Anell much of a family after what they’ve done to us.”

“Done to us? Dear, House Anell provides all these things for us, they train us and raise us and give us houses and equipment. They even help us deal with the side effects of void Affinity!” Taeli shook her head. “We owe them a lot, and besides that, they’re blood. If you can’t stand with your blood, who can you stand with?”

“You care and feed for your pets, too.” Shayma frowned at Taeli, and shifted her still-hidden body out of Scalemind form. It was too distracting to try and have that going at the same time as multiple illusions of herself. “My mother didn’t need their help dealing with void Affinity, and seeing what they consider helping, I don’t think anyone does!”

“Don’t take that tone with me, child!” Taeli crossed her arms and stared back at Shayma, undaunted. “I don’t care who you represent, don’t disrespect your elders!” Shayma just stared at Taeli. Then she realized that the women just saw Shayma as another young Ell, not what she actually was.

“Taeli, the Anells have been using our family for generations,” Shayma said, drawing on Blue’s Presence a little. She didn’t want to flatten Taeli, but she did want to establish she wasn’t some random runaway. “They’ve been abusing us. My mom fled when she had the chance because she saw what was going on. Liani saw it, too. I can’t believe you don’t see it yourself.”

“What I see is an outsider coming by to tell us our own business.” Taeli narrowed her eyes as the pressure of Presence came into play, but she simply braced her shoulders and shook her head at Shayma. “Even if you are an Ell, you aren’t one of mine! I’m glad Sienne is alive but I thought she would have raised her daughter better!”

Shayma suppressed the urge to strangle Taeli, and succeeded mostly because she was still rooted to the floor so Blue could make his portals for everyone. The evacuation of the estate was actually going fairly well, and while she admitted it would have been faster to take the entire thing at once, it may not have been possible to do that with a fourth-tier void user around. She was rapidly coming to the conclusion that Taeli might be too far gone to take with them; she was clearly not a drugged-out addict like most of the void users, but given her loyalties and power it was impossible to force her to come, or to control her on the other side if she did.

“She did, which is why I’m here,” Shayma said at last. “If anything, I would say you’re the outsider,” she continued. “Not many Ells want to stay here. They’re well aware it’s a prison.” She noticed that Talen was looking deeply uncomfortable, standing in the corner of the room, but he’d have to cope.

“What do you mean, they’re aware—” Taeli stopped suddenly, turning her head to look around. Obviously there was nothing of note in the room, but it was clear there were esoteric senses at play as she narrowed her eyes in the direction of the nearest portal. By now there were three, and children were being herded through them out to the other side. “What are you doing!?”

“Letting everyone leave.” Shayma said bluntly. There was no point in trying to hide it anymore. “The Ell family is breaking away from the Anells.”

“And who are you to decide that?” Taeli whirled to march out of the room, but Shayma stopped her by closing off the entrance with illusionary [Cultivated Steel]. Her Domain made it real enough that Taeli’s fist bounced off it when she gave it an exploratory knock. She scowled and turned to Shayma. “What exactly is your Class, girl? You’re definitely not void Affinity.”

“I am not. I don’t want to fight you on this, Taeli, but Risu already agreed. We’re leaving.”

“Risu?” Taeli laughed, but it didn’t hold any humor. “The passphrase you gave me was the one that meant she was under duress. You forced it out of her.”

“That bitch!” Blue said, and Shayma agreed. “You need to get out of there, let me—”

“No,” she told him. “Not until we’re done here.” She focused on Taeli. “Of course we forced Risu to terms. The Anells would never give up their weapons of their own accord. Why would they?”

“Just like everyone is leaving of their own accord?” Taeli frowned and put her hand on the sabre sheathed at her side. “You’re an Ell, so I don’t want to fight you, but I won’t let you do this either.”

“I’m not—” Shayma began, shifting her skin to [Mana Iron] just in case it actually did come to blows. She was pinned down to some extent, anchored to the house, but shapeshifting made that less of an issue than it might have been. What interrupted her was Taeli suddenly tracing a line of void in the air with a fingertip. It wasn’t anywhere near her, but it hurt, and shattered her Domain like cheap glass. Even though she wasn’t using it, the Skill ached like a sore tooth. “What in the abyss?”

“[The Persistent Void],” Taeli said, turning to look at where Shayma really was. With the shattering of the illusionary Domain, Shayma no longer seemed to be talking to Taeli in the middle of the room, but instead was revealed at the entrance to it. The fourth-tier didn’t seem overly surprised to see that Shayma had been somewhere else, and she wheeled and advanced on Shayma, ignoring her bleeding finger. “Now you cannot influence my family with whatever Skill that was!” She barely finished the sentence before the floor cracked, and Taeli vaulted to one side to avoid a plume of superheated steam. Shayma laughed.

“I’m not influencing anyone, and if you’re smart you won’t attack me. Blue wouldn’t like it.”

“I’m just going to teleport her away,” Blue said, but even as he was speaking Taeli made another void-tinged gesture. “Oh shit, that smarts!”

“You can’t touch me with that,” Taeli said, and looked upward once again. “Why are they still vanishing? I’ll…” She trailed off and turned to leave the room again.

“Blue?” Shayma prodded, and stone slid up to cover the entrances to the room. “Taeli, you have to know that the Anells are the problem here. If the Ells were happy I’d find something else to punish them with, but I’ve seen them sending out my family as suicidal assassins.” Taeli growled and smashed her fist against the stone before rounding on Shayma.

“I won’t have you slandering my family that way!” Taeli took a few quick strides over to where Shayma stood, reaching out. Shayma slapped her hand away. The loss of her Domain was a problem, but so long as Taeli didn’t try to use a void sword Skill, Shayma was confident in her ability to deal with the woman. Even if she did, Shayma had other tricks up her sleeve.

“Ungrateful child.” Taeli shifted into a familiar stance, one that Shayma saw her mother use, and unleashed a blurringly quick blow, a grapple rather than something meant to hurt or kill. Taeli clearly still saw her as an Ell and Shayma wasn’t above taking advantage of that. With [Form of Thought, Shape of Will] it was simplicity itself to deflect the grab, though Taeli was so fast that was all she could do.

The next few moments were a blur as Shayma was forced to fend off a rapid series of attacks, [Mana Iron] skin ringing from the force of Taeli’s blows. The speed and ferocity of it really drove home Taeli’s fourth-tier status, and she wasn’t using either her sword or her void Skills. Shayma had to focus on deflecting Taeli’s attacks, though she didn’t yet need to draw on Blue’s mana to do it.

“Tell me when they’re all through, would you?” She was talking to Blue, but her casual question stunned Taeli enough that she froze. It flashed through her mind that Taeli could sense them leaving too, and she probably thought Shayma was asking her. She couldn’t turn down the opening either, and sent Taeli reeling back with a punch to the gut.

“Almost done,” Blue said. “They’re pretty fast, but I guess it’s mostly children anyway. There’s like thirty of them on the other side now.”

There was a soft sound as Taeli took out her sabre, and suddenly Shayma didn’t have any attention to spare for anything else. It was one thing to deal with a Taeli who was just trying to pin her down for being insubordinate. It was another to deal with a Taeli who actually wanted to do her harm. The woman’s sword was a dizzying blur, and if it weren’t for Shayma’s ability to make her skin [Mana Iron], she would have been full of bloody holes even if she deflected most of the attacks.

“Careful!” Blue said, as Taeli came at her again, and Shayma threw up a barrier with her Domain without thinking about it. Sudden pain blazed through her as the mana she was channeling seemed to eat away at her very body, forcing her to drop it again as she sagged to her knees, blinking blood from her eyes. Taeli’s void Skill was horrifying. She barely managed to deflect the next thrust, stuck as she was to the floor.

“I won’t let you take my family away!” Taeli shouted, and Shayma shifted her arms into long scythes to sweep Taeli’s legs out from under her.

“I’m not!” Shayma shouted back. “They’re leaving!”

“Everyone’s through but Talen,” Blue told her.

“Then open a portal here!” Shayma said, having actually completely forgotten about the kid in the corner. She glanced that way, seeing him watching the battle with wide eyes. One of Blue’s portals opened near him, and Taeli swiveled around to stare at it. Talen looked from Shayma, to Taeli, to the portal.

“Go through!” She told him.

“No, don’t!” Taeli said, taking a step toward him, then another. They both stared at each other for a moment, then acted at almost the exact same moment. Talen darted toward the portal, and Taeli’s sword whipped out, glowing black with void Energy, sending a long arc flying through the air toward the portal.

And Talen.

Shayma could see he wouldn’t make it, and so could Taeli, by a sudden and subtle shift in her stance, as if she was trying to recall the Skill she’d unleashed, to stop it from slicing the boy in half. But she couldn’t, and there was no way to get there in the few fractions of a second remaining.

Shayma did the only thing she could do, pulling on her Domain again, poisoned as it was, and hurling mana between the void slash and the boy. Once again the void seared her, Taeli’s [Persistent Void] Skill and her void blade Skill both grinding away at her mana, burning through her body as the instants slid by in slow motion. When she pulled on Blue’s mana it only hastened the poison, sending it blazing through her, so she dropped it and just focused on pushing back the void Skill of her own accord. Her vision blurred and her shapeshift failed, but inch by inch the void slash slowed, stilled and finally vanished. Talen disappeared through the portal. Her Domain sputtered and went out of its own accord.

“Shayma!” Blue’s voice seemed to come from a long way away as she drifted away into blackness.

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