Blue Core

by

InadvisablyCompelled

Chapter 20B: Year 1, Day 238 – Ynikrik Sapphire-Facet

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Kallindakari was a death trap. The survivors were crammed into the lowest portions of the enormous garnet stalactites, but there was no way for anyone to escape from them there, hanging as they did over the Chalcery Depths. Nobody wanted to be near the upper portions, where Kallindakari joined the lowways, as if mere distance would save them from the hordes that threatened to overrun the city. The bridges that joined the disparate parts of the hanging, carved city had been retracted or in some cases destroyed, sent spiraling down into the shadowy abyss below.

Ynikrik was exhausted. They’d learned early on that fighting the blightbeast horde directly was a rapid path to death, even for a fourth-tier Classer, so the defense had fallen to those who could attack at range. Unfortunately, most mages and archers and javelineers and other, more esoteric types were not really built for endurance. He’d been at it for nearly a week with only scraps of sleep, draining his mana pool constantly as he sent shards of steel out to slaughter anything that squirmed its way past the earthen barriers, then draining it again to recall the metal. They’d already run out of any extra, having cannibalized furniture and statues and railings to give the metal shapers more to work with.

He scraped together enough concentration to turn the twisted piece of scrap in his claw into a razored disc and sent it spinning through the smaller beasts that had broken through the main front. His entire carapace felt sore from concentration as it bounded and rebounded through the morass, killing Leyn-sized things, especially flying ones, before they reached the defenders. He sent it careening into a larger, twenty-foot stone-armored chimera, guiding it into a maw exposed to bite and then detonating the disk into shards.

The frog-faced, crocodile-jawed horror screamed, convulsed, and toppled. The corpse blocked the gap it had made in the defenses, though it wouldn’t stay blocked for long. The very nature of the beasts seemed to break down complex magic and mana reinforcement, meaning it was a constant struggle by those with earth Affinity to hold back the main tide. That didn’t even take into account the beasts that had earth Affinity themselves and bored their own holes around the reinforced lowway.

The ground shuddered, a garbled message of violence that he didn’t pay much attention to any longer, it happened so much. Instead he focused on pulling back the splintered shards of the missile he’d destroyed, and so missed the entrance of an even greater terror until it smashed straight through the thick stone barricade. Some massive lava-coated insect, fifty feet long at least, lumbered forward and spat flaming globs out at whatever it could see. It could see him.

Ynikrik skittered to one side as a lava bomb crunched down on the pocked stone where he had stood, sending molten droplets spattering. He hissed as one landed on his armor, almost burning through before he managed to dislodge it with a swipe of reclaimed iron, formed into a flat scoop. Even so, he could feel the sting of the burn, among the other bruises, scrapes, and welts from the past week’s fighting.

Rapid drumming from Keleeheem Opal-Star rang across the battlefield, ordering those with earth and water Affinities to the gap and shifting others to deal with the rest. It wasn’t likely they’d be able to kill the thing without further casualties, but there had to be some third-tiers left who could snuff its fire. He forced his aching legs to carry him closer, so he could start sniping the fluttering flame-wraiths that were darting forward to suck the heat from the living.

Leyn and Stoneborn converged on the lava-beast, all of them moving with grim weariness. Anyone that had delusions of glory or excitement had been either killed or had their attitude ground out of them over hundreds of hours of continuous fighting. A few Classers had even retreated down to Kallindakari, though how they were faring Ynikrik didn’t know. The only thing coming out of the city were ever-dwindling stocks of food, though at least the mighty deluge of the Kallin Conduit meant there was more than enough water available.

Suddenly, the ground shook again, but it wasn’t something coming through the barriers. It came from above, it was moving fast, and the creak and crunch of shattering rock told him that it wasn’t bothering with any sort of earth Affinity magic. It was pure power. He groaned, skidding to a halt and rounding on yet another threat when it punched through the ceiling, dropping the full two hundred feet to land on the scarred surface of the lowway.

It was no invader. He could tell that from any distance, considering the aura of unfamiliar magic that it radiated. Not to mention the unfamiliar metal that coated it completely, something with so much power that it made his mouth water. No, whoever it was had reached the fourth or fifth tier, if not higher, and that armor, moving as it did with the slightest twitch, made it obvious they had metal Affinity. But not just metal Affinity, since they were cloaked in some other kind of power entirely.

Before anyone could react in any intelligent way to its appearance, it turned and launched itself at the lava beast. He tried to call out a warning, uselessly, about the depletion they carried, but it was far too late for that. Then in midflight it shifted, becoming something closer to twenty feet long than the biped it had been before, something with claws and wings and horns. When it smashed into the lava beast, it tore through it like it was little more than vapor, then turned and spat a blue-white fire at the smaller animals and monsters crowding in behind it.

As if fire and metal weren’t enough, sudden shadows billowed outward from their new ally, ones that made Ynikrik shudder. The Chalcery Depths were home to the largest darkness Affinity mana spring in their part of the world, and he was quite familiar with all the various forms the Affinity could take. None of them had the sheer malevolent hunger of that one, and the screams of the things the darkness surrounded were chilling. Even more chilling was the fact that as the shadows moved, they left nothing behind but polished stone.

A sudden lance of brilliant light shot out of the darkness and smashed into some sort of gem-carapaced beetle that had nearly made it to him, and shook him out of his reverie. However the stranger was managing all that without weakening, he still had to look to his own defense, and that of others. He was almost, almost tempted to try and pull a drop of that strange metal he felt to use, but even tired as he was he knew that was a terrible idea.

He crafted more metal spikes to take out the smallest things, claw-sized rats scurrying forward, pinning them writhing and dying against the stone. Then the shadow region swept over them, and he threw up a defensive Skill in reflexive horror, nearly collapsing in mana drain, before realizing that the shadows weren’t touching him, or any of the defenders. It was just the invaders that were being torn apart and eaten, chunks vanishing as if a thousand starving jaws had set upon them. It was amazing, but when the shadows rolled away it just revealed how many more things there were to kill, how the beast swarm stretched on and on along the lowway.

The stranger returned to its first, bipedal form, stretching out its hands. There was a whirl of black and a monstrous weapon, full four times as long as the stranger was tall, appeared in its hands. It had a bulb at one end, and decorations and runes covered the barrel, every single one of which was unfamiliar and potent. This was a new metal too, and if the armor made his mouth water, this metal almost made his heart stop. It sang perfection in ways he didn’t know were possible. Yet even that was obscured by the sheer potency of mana radiating from the thing, as if the stranger had captured an entire mana spring and stuffed it inside. And it wasn’t any mana Affinity he was familiar with.

“Cover your eyes!” The stranger shouted as it swung the weapon up to its shoulder, the metal armor shifting to brace it. The voice was loud and booming but undeniably female, and he dropped to the ground, curling legs and claws over his eyes. Whatever that weapon could do, if she was warning against watching it, he was going to take it to heart. There was a sudden crack, a thunder like the end of the world, and then a roar that just went on and on. Even though he’d closed his eyes and covered them with his limbs, light leaked in, harsh and aggressive.

Mana hammered at him, just the faintest reflections of what the weapon was actually doing, and heat rippled over his carapace in waves, as if he were next to a blazing fire. It seemed to go on forever, the sheer destructive power becoming more horrifying with every passing second, but the stranger did not stop. It wasn’t until a full minute later that the light went out and the heat faded, with a suddenness that suggested she had simply stopped firing rather than run out of mana to power the weapon with.

“It should be safe now,” the stranger’s voice said, and Ynikrik uncovered his eyes. The barriers were gone, but so was the horde. For as far as he could see the lowway had been scoured clean, even the incredibly hard stone vaporized in a nearly perfect circular tunnel, extending on and on. The stone at the edges still glowed, but not with heat. Instead, somehow chunks of crystal and rock had been transmuted, turning the entire tunnel into a light-flecked passage, glittering and glimmering on all sides.

“I think that’s everything,” the stranger continued. “But just in case…” She lifted a hand, and small orbs of light began to flick out, arcing through the air and coming to rest floating about each of the defenders. One settled just above his carapace, a soothing warmth that felt remarkably safe, though he had no idea why.

The metal armor shimmered and seemed to vanish, though he could still feel its presence, revealing what was obviously a Surfacer. She looked oddly soft compared to a Stoneborn or a Leyn or even the Unake, but he’d already seen how deceiving that appearance was. Ynikrik started toward her, more out of sheer bloody-minded curiosity than anything else, but then sagged back down as the last of his strength failed him. He was just too tired, now that things were safe again.

She walked back toward the defenders, the bright green carapace of Keleeheem moving to intercept her, and a wave of restorative energy washed out from her, cascading across him and the other defenders. Ynikrik’s claw clattered. In the sudden clarity as fatigue was washed away, he wasn’t sure he actually wanted to meet her. She’d shown mastery over at least four Affinities, wielded a weapon that could destroy cities, and seemed entirely immune to the effects of depletion.

If she could do all that, there was nobody left in Kallindakari who could oppose her, not even Keleeheem. Perhaps nobody could. All in all, while she might have been their savior she was not someone whose attention he wanted, if he wanted to keep his life the way it was. No, Ynikrik decided, it would be better to return to the city and see if he could find an intact hammock to sleep in. Leave the powerful outsiders to the higher castes. After all, that was their job.

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